Leading figures in British horse racing have continued to express frustration with the capacity limits imposed on race tracks, which are much stricter than those on other sporting venues.
As reported by the Racing Post, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), David Armstorng, confirmed that he will be taking the matter to the DCMS.
“Where we have challenged government as well is to demonstrate the scientific thinking behind not opening up for what they call standing events and events where people mingle, which obviously would include horseracing,” he remarked.
“Although that is put forward as a potentially higher-risk environment, we’ve not actually been shown any scientific evidence to demonstrate that.”
Horse racing leaders had previously expressed disappointment at the government’s decision to push back ‘Freedom Day’ – the initial date for further relaxation of lockdown rules – from 21 June to 19 July, although both Armstrong and Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) noted that ‘public health must come first’.
However, after entering into talks with the government, the industry was able to secure permission for up to 12,000 racing enthusiasts to attend each day of the Royal Ascot festival as a trail event.
Armstrong added: “Obviously the most important test event for us was Royal Ascot. It will take a little while to gather the results from Ascot and if that were to come back with very positive results we would continue to press even harder because that would be the first comparable event with real evidence.”
The topic was also raised in parliament this week during a debate discussing the Events Research Programme, where MPs deliberated on the success of pilot events in informing the oversight of social distancing relaxation.
Lawrence Robertson MP, the Conservative Party representative for Tewksbury, asked sports minister Nigel Huddleston whether crowd capacities would be equalised if pilot events demonstrated no differentiation between racetracks and stadiums, the latter of which are currently allowed to operate at a capacity of up to 10,000 spectators.
The MP further noted that the horse racing industry had been lobbying extensively in order to see its own capacity raised from the current limit of 4,000 to the 10,000 threshold enjoyed by sports such as football. For the semi-finals of the UEFA 2020 European Championship, capacity of 45,000 has been permitted at Wembley Stadium, whilst 60,000 will be able to attend the final.
In his response, Huddleston stated that the government ‘have been unable to allow further opening at this moment in time’ due to public health advice as well as concerns about certain events ‘potential for mingling’ is greater.
He added: “I’m aware of the impact that has had on certain sectors, in particular racing, and that is exactly why we want to get the Events Research Programme moving and all these sectors open as soon as possible.”