Greyhound racing is due to return to the Oxford Stadium, with speedway events also a potential possibility, following the acquisition of a new 10-year lease.
Kevin Boothby, Manager of Towcester and Henlow greyhound tracks secured the lease from the venue’s owners, Galliard Homes, with plans to reopen its doors to greyhound racing in December.
Speaking to BBC Radio Oxford, he remarked: “We’re delighted we’ve got it over the line now and we can look to the future and get greyhound racing back there and we’ll also look at other things.
“It’s so important that we’ve got it back and fair play to the council and the local community – we need to deliver them a fantastic business for the local area and create a lot of jobs.”
Located in the city’s Cowley district, the Oxford Stadium last held speedway events in 2007 and greyhound racing on 29 December 2012, after which date it was closed by the Greyhound Racing Association (GRA).
The closure of the stadium, which indirectly and directly supported around 300 jobs, met extensive local opposition in the form of a campaign group, a local MP and the city council.
There were some plans for redevelopment of the area for housing, but Oxford City Council ultimately voted to maintain the stadium for leisure purposes, with the intention of ultimately bringing back speedway.
Reported by the BBC at the time, Gavin Beckley of Save Our Stadium, said: “If the current owners can’t turn a profit we would like them to sell the site to someone who can run it as a leisure business.
“It runs two nights-a-week, you could run it seven nights-a-week without running out of things to do, it’s chronically underused.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, warned that the closure of the stadium would ‘tear the heart out of the community’, although acknowledging the benefits of further housing development.
In 2020, businessman Nik Budimir expressed interest in buying the facility and redeveloping it into a multi-sport venue via a £25 million investment, as reported by the Oxford Mail.
Budimir’s planned investment would re-establish both greyhound racing and speedway as the staples of the track, whilst also incorporating a boxing club and dance school, in addition to discussing the possibility of a rugby sevens pitch.
Boothby’s planned reopening of Oxford Stadium will likely provide a much needed boost to the UK’s greyhound racing sector, which like many other sports has suffered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the government’s four-stage roadmap for the easing of national lockdown restrictions, venues such as Oxford Road are now permitted to reopen their doors to limited numbers of spectators, with further relaxation of restrictions expected on 19 July.
The announcement also follows the purchase of Newcastle’s Central Park by the Arena Racing Company (ARC) in April, shortly after it entered into an agreement with Entain to redevelop the greyhound racing season schedule, refresh the sports apparel and widen its audience base.
In addition, the sport has received financial support from the British Greyhound Racing Fund (BGRF) in the form of a £1.1 million relief package, aimed at both safeguarding the sector and maintaining the welfare standards of competing dogs.