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£40 million for racing, ‘door open’ for other sports and hope for return of grassroots

British racing has welcomed the provisional £40 million Government support package to help it through the winter.

The loan is part of the £300 million Sport Winter Survival Package announced today (Thursday, 19 November) to help major spectator sports impacted by the delay in the return of the paying public.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), Racecourse Association (RCA) and the Horsemen’s Group released a joint statement welcoming the announcement.

“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,” said BHA chief executive Nick Rust.

“We are grateful to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (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. 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.”

Fans have been unable to attend racing in person since March, with the exception of two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick.

“This has led to a significant number of redundancies at racecourses. It has also reduced the flow of funds to racing’s participants, which in turn hits the rural economies where so many are based,” said the joint statement.

The planned return of spectators from 1 October was delayed for six months and affected sports were promised financial support.

The statement added: “Working with racecourses and horsemen, the BHA put in a detailed submission to Government at the beginning of October. This included an updated assessment of the economic impact of the absence of spectators for a further six months until the end of March. This estimated that racing would lose a further £70 million in this period, including direct losses to racecourses from lost ticket sales and the consequential reduction in returns to the sport’s participants. Individual racecourses, coordinated by the RCA, put in financial information to support the submission.

“The BHA and RCA subsequently spoke directly to Government officials and advisers putting together the funding package. MPs from racing areas were contacted by the BHA’s Public Affairs team and briefed on the financial challenges facing the industry. It was highlighted that the most important way Government could help racing was to secure the return of spectators at the earliest opportunity.

“The message to politicians has been that the racing industry faces a significant contraction if spectators cannot return by the spring.”

The statement adds the BHA is seeking further details of the criteria that will be used to issue loans as well as clarification from UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments as to how any funding will be made available to Scottish and Welsh racecourses.

Oliver Dowden, DCMS secretary of state, said the Government “promised to stand by sports” when the return of fans was postponed.

“We are doing just that by delivering another £300 million on top of existing business support schemes,” he said. “Britain is a sports powerhouse, and this Government will do everything we can to help our precious sports and clubs make it through covid.”

Steve Barclay, chief secretary to the treasury, added sport is a “key part of our national life, an important contributor to our economy and a key hub within many communities”.

“Protecting that sporting heritage and supporting as many jobs within the sports sector as possible is an important step in ensuring that our economy can bounce back from the impacts of the covid pandemic,” he said. “Alongside this financial support, we now need to ensure that fans can return to sports events as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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‘Door open’ for other sports

DCMS parliamentary under-secretary of state Nigel Huddleston announced the measures in the House of Commons this afternoon (19 November).

He said he hopes the money will be given out “within weeks” and gave hope to sports not specifically mentioned in the Sport Winter Survival Package press release.

“Today’s provisional allocations are not the end of the story,” he said.

“The door is open for any sport to apply where there is a need. That includes cricket and other sports that are not on the initial list of allocations.”

He continued that “of course we would all prefer to see fans back in the stadiums”.

“Spectator sports need spectators, and with the real progress that we are making on vaccines and testing, that goal is now firmly within our sight,” said Mr Huddleston.

“Until then, we have stepped in to protect not just individual clubs and organisations, but entire sports and the communities they serve.”

Responding to questions about what the end of the current lockdown in England in two weeks’ time would mean for grassroots sport, he added that it is a “shared goal across the chamber to open as soon as it is safe to do so”.

“That goes for grassroots and elite sport,” he said. “As the secretary of state has said, he wants to ensure that grassroots sport is at the front of the queue when it comes to reopening.”

Mr Huddleston concluded that this package is intended to provide help through to the spring.

“We do not know what the circumstances will be next year — none of us has a crystal ball — but we are all extremely hopeful that vaccines and other measures will enable us to have a much brighter future,” he said.

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