BHA welcomes Government funding package for coronavirus-affected sports

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust has welcomed the Government’s announcement that up to £40 million will be made available to racecourses to help them weather the continuing hardship of behind-closed-doors racing.

Plans for a combined £300m cash injection for 11 sports severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic were unveiled by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with racing second to only rugby union in terms of the support it will receive.

Racing has been staged without spectators since it resumed on June 1, barring two crowd pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September, with racecourses warning of dire consequences if the sport continues to operate without racegoers.

Working with racecourses and horsemen, the BHA put in a detailed submission to Government at the beginning of October, which included an updated assessment of the economic impact of the absence of spectators for a further six months until the end of March.

Losses were estimated at a further £70m and the Government has recognised that plea in its Sport Winter Survival Package, providing the support, which will largely be in the form of loans, to help racecourses.

Rust said: “The support for racing recognises the sport’s position as the second biggest spectator sport in the UK and the financial peril faced by the tens of thousands who depend upon racing for their livelihoods.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust
BHA chief executive Nick Rust (Victoria Jones/PA)

“We are grateful to DCMS and its ministers and officials who have come together with their colleagues at the Treasury to secure this assistance for horseracing. We also thank the many MPs who have supported the need to help the racing businesses in their constituencies.

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“Once again, this demonstrates that when racing speaks to government with one voice, we are so much more effective.

“I would also like to thank the members of the BHA team who put our submission together and presented it to government and officials. They work tirelessly to protect the interests of racing.

“Whilst advancing the case for financial support, they have also helped to ensure the sport continues behind closed doors, with owners present, and supported the efforts to get spectators back. I am very proud of all they are achieving.”

However, a BHA statement also underlined its commitment to reviewing the current Levy system, whilst also highlighting how the closure of betting shops will also impact on racing’s finances.

It added: “The most significant pressure – the absence of spectators – remains, whilst the closure of betting shops will further impact the amount raised by the Levy.

“We continue to press government to address structural challenges with the funding of horseracing, which would be best addressed by an immediate review of the Levy and its contribution to the international competitiveness of British racing.”

The BHA, which told MPs the “most important way government could help racing was to secure the return of spectators at the earliest opportunity”, is now seeking to clarify the criteria of issuing loans as well as further information as to how any funding will be made available to Scottish and Welsh racecourses.

Empty stands at Cheltenham's October meeting
Empty stands at Cheltenham’s October meeting (David Davies/PA)

Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association and speaking on behalf of The Horsemen’s Group, also made it clear Levy reform is a key issue.

He said: “As we continue without spectators on courses, this financial support from Government is vital and welcome. There are clear challenges for our sport with the flow of funds to participants severely restricted, impacting the grassroots every day.

“I hope that this additional support for racecourses will work for everyone in the sport and we see the funding trickle down to the committed participants that keep racing going. There is more to do to address structural funding issues and we continue to support calls for Levy reform.”

The Government had hoped to allow spectators to return to venues on a socially-distanced basis from October 1, but it delayed those plans after a rise in coronavirus infections nationwide.

A pilot scheme took place at Doncaster in September before plans to return crowds were halted
A pilot scheme took place at Doncaster in September before plans to return crowds were halted (David Davies/PA)

The final amount received by each sport or organisation may ultimately differ from the amounts which have been set out initially when final decisions are made by an independent decision-making board, and supported by Sport England.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, added: “On behalf of our members, we welcome the announcement of financial support for racing and look forward to working with Government and Sport England on how this funding will be allocated.

“Racecourses face an extremely challenging environment until spectators can return in full and we continue to work closely with Government and other major sports to expedite this as quickly as possible.”

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said there is “definitely a chance” of spectators being back in sporting venues ahead of Christmas.

Speaking on talkSPORT on Thursday, Dowden said: “There is definitely a chance of it. We are in close discussions with the centre of Government about what we could do as we go back into the tiering system.

“There’s a possibility in the lowest-risk areas to open the door ajar a little bit, start to prove in the lowest-risk areas that we could make this work then I’d love for us to be able to do that.”

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