UK horse racing industry leaders have confirmed that the sector’s representatives will ‘continue to press hard’ to receive the 10,000 capacity limit enjoyed by seated stadiums, as the government pushes ‘Freedom Day’ back until 19 July.
The delay in the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions was announced yesterday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – having originally been scheduled for 21 June – due to concerns about the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which is now thought to be responsible for 90% of all new infections.
Although acknowledging that the industry is ‘disappointed’ with the delay in lockdown restrictions and estimating that the postponement will result in a “£15-20 million hit on racecourse finances” in lost ticketing and hospitality sales, David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), noted the rationale behind it due to public health concerns.
He remarked: “Naturally we are disappointed to hear of a delay to stage four of the roadmap to recovery but acknowledge it has been activated due to public health concerns.
“It is important to note that this will have a significant commercial effect on racecourses that had sold many thousands of tickets for events after 21 June – we estimate a loss of between £15m and £20m due to the four-week delay.
“The industry will continue to press hard for racecourses to receive the same 10,000 capacity limits as seated stadia. While this will lessen the hit it is still far from commercially viable in what is the peak season for welcoming spectators.”
Under the government’s current four-stage roadmap for the easing of national UK lockdown restrictions, in place since November 2020, seated sporting venues such as football stadiums are permitted to operate at a limited capacity, allowing between 4,000 and 10,000 fans to attend matches.
In addition, the government and Football Association (FA) confirmed in April that up to 25,000 England fans will be able to attend national matches at Wembley Stadium during the UEFA 2020 European Championship, whilst 45,000 spectators will be able to watch the semi-finals and final at the stadium.
However, there has been no further confirmation on the proposed implementation of vaccine passports, a move which received some support from a number of sporting bodies including the FA, Rugby Football Union (RFU) and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
The racing industry has been campaigning the government in order to be added to the list of sports permitted to allow 10,000 spectators to re-enter its stands, entering into talks with authorities regarding the capacity limit of the Royal Ascot festival – due to start today – last month.
Regarding horse racing’s exclusion from the 10,000 capacity plans, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), RCA and Racehorse Owners Association asserted in a joint statement that ‘this is not a sustainable situation for a £4 billion industry’.
However, whilst also admitting that the delay was ‘disappointing’ and noting the frustration of horse racing enthusiasts, Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the BHA, stated that ‘public health must come first’.
She commented: “While it is disappointing that plans for the relaxation of restrictions and the further return of spectators have been delayed, we of course understand the principle that government’s decisions should be evidence-based and public health must come first.
“Many of our racegoers will be frustrated by this delay, but we are doing all we can to work with national and local authorities to maximise the number of people allowed to attend race meetings in safety.”