LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – British racing can return within a week once the green light is given by the government to ease restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority said.
British racing has been suspended since March 17 with major events such as the Epsom Derby, originally due to take place on June 6, postponed.
The suspension came a few days after the showpiece jumps meeting, the four-day Cheltenham Festival, attracted over 250,000 spectators which has been heavily criticised.
Nick Rust said that horses have remained in training during the lockdown and unlike Premier League footballers do not require several weeks of preparation before competing once restrictions are eased.
Late May has been floated as a possibility for the resumption.
“We can be one of the first to go,” Rust told the BBC.
“We don’t want to make the case ahead of public opinion. We’re saying we’re ready when you’re ready, when the public health advice is ready.
“We don’t have Premier League footballers training for six weeks in our sport — our equine and human athletes are ready to go within a week to help bring live sport back.”
Rust rejected criticism from some trainers that he and the BHA have not been proactive enough in pushing for an earlier return.
Racing has continued behind closed doors in Australia and Hong Kong.
“The conditions are different in different places,” said Rust.
“People cite Hong Kong, that’s government-owned and all the horses are stabled right next to the racecourses.
“They’re able to make the case of continuing the economic activity. We have to try harder to make the case.”
Rust, who is due to stand down at the end of the year, said a resumption would also ease the burden on the state with thousands relying on racing to make a living.
“Our industry employs 20,000 people in rural economies, most of them just earning a basic living — of course we want some revenue to start flowing to make sure they’re looked after and they’re not a burden on the national purse,” he said.
Rust acknowledges a return would take place behind closed doors but defended the decision to allow massive crowds to attend Cheltenham.
“That week Crufts (the famous dog show) took place indoors, millions of people still went on the Tube each day in London, Liverpool’s European football match (with Atletico Madrid) took place,” he said.
“Goodness knows how difficult it is to manage the curve whilst trying to balance the public and economic situation.
“I’m sure the government’s advisors will look back and there are some areas they would have done differently but all we could do genuinely was to keep in touch with government all the way.”