British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust has spelled out that there will be a “dreadful impact” on his sport if crowds are not permitted for the next six months.
Rust, speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that plans for spectators to return to sports events from October 1 are on hold because of rising rates of coronavirus infections, confirmed he and his counterparts from other sports have subsequently discussed the situation with Government.
Following that meeting with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Rust projected that racing will lose owners if the current situation persists – as Prime Minister Johnson suggested it may well, through the coming winter months.
In an interview on Sky Sports Racing, however, Rust also emphasised that he and his colleagues will continue to make robust representations about the success of two crowd pilot events held at Doncaster and Warwick this month.
He hopes too that a “strong relationship with Government” can still serve racing well in an hour of dire need – with ominous financial crises predicted by many.
Asked if racing could continue for six months without paying customers, or racecourses might be forced out of business, he said: “I don’t know about that, but it will obviously have a dreadful impact – which is why so much time and money has been invested in the pilots.
“We put ourselves at the front of the queue for that, because of the disciplined way racing returned behind closed doors after the lockdown.”
Further crowd trials were due to take place at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting this week, but it has been confirmed – to no one’s surprise, in the circumstances – that those plans have been scrapped.
Rust added: “It’s really frustrating to see the pilots cancelled, but we have got a recovery plan which has nine strands to it.
“We’ve been getting on with that and will do all that we can to help ourselves along the way, but we will need Government support to get through this.”
The lack of turnstiles cashflow, he predicts, will bite as hard as anywhere at the top level of British racing.
“You can’t run a Cheltenham Festival without a crowd and sustain the levels of prize-money that are in place there for the future,” he said.
“You can sustain the day-to-day prize-money at smaller meetings, where media rights income is the main source of income, but there is no doubt that as things stand it’s going to have a dreadful impact on us.
“Government is aware of that, and the silver lining is that it’s pretty clear that (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Rishi Sunak, who is the constituency MP for Middleham, is working with Oliver Dowden, specifically under the Prime Minister’s instructions, to deliver support for sport.
“We will be going for meetings with their officials over the next few days to outline what we need and how we can access it as soon as possible.
“We’re in these meetings every day. We have a strong relationship with Government – that’s what we’re on every day and can be held to account for it.”
Rust acknowledges and shares the concerns of all in racing, nonetheless.
“I can understand that today people in racing will be feeling frustrated – I know I’m certainly very frustrated,” he said.
“There is no doubt that we are going to lose some owners. We are trying to do all we can to retain them.
“The sport has been so vigilant – we’ve run 390 race meetings now since June 1, and there is no evidence of transmission of the virus on the racecourse.
“I think we ran two very successful days at Doncaster and Warwick. It’s our job to to continue to try and ensure that we convince Government to support these events.”
The alternative is a huge financial shortfall.
Rust added: “The impact on our sport over the next few months – we’ve already said the impact on our sport this year of having no crowds in place could be up to £300million.
“Obviously, that pain is going to continue. I reiterated that to the Secretary of State again today.
“With regards to getting us back to crowds, we believe the pilots that have been done still need to be evaluated and we need to get the evidence out there that shows that people are safer in that environment than they are in a number of other environments that are currently being permitted.”