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James Fisher: ‘Brexit plus Covid is the perfect storm’ *H&H Plus*

Opinion

  • James Fisher on why the window is narrowing for championship hopefuls

    January is always dark, with short days, grim weather, few events, hoof abscesses, mud fever and heavy wet rugs, and you have to grin and bear it until the birds start singing. Although it’s always difficult, as I write, Brexit plus Covid has created the perfect storm.

    Covid has brought a halt to our shows and now the red tape around Brexit is making it incredibly difficult to travel abroad to compete. Hopefully common sense will prevail over the paperwork. With the racing industry as well to support, there has to be a system that works properly.

    At the moment, however, costs are spiralling, the rules keep changing and you would have to be a brave man or woman to take a lorryload of horses down to Spain.

    While much has already been said about the state of our national circuit, the current situation has brought home how vulnerable we really are without tours. We have very little at home that compares when it comes to being able to do business, which is why overseas tours are so popular. They’ve been even more so since Covid. In 2020 the tours ran shows consistently throughout the year and were able to benefit from the shutdown in the UK.

    To produce a horse to a good level you need nice courses, and the length of the tour allows you to build them up gradually. There are few other places you can both produce a horse to grand prix level and bring a green novice up to jumping more advanced courses.

    The tours are where professional people within the sport link up, and are also a good place for selectors to judge horses and know, from the quality of the arenas, how they might perform if they were jumping in a Nations Cup. You would find it difficult to judge a Barcelona vs Manchester City match on an ordinary park, where the surface wasn’t good.

    Championship build-up

    Fingers crossed, we should have an Olympics and then a European Championships to prepare for this year – but at the moment, the travel situation is definitely affecting the top-end competitors. Realistically, we have a window, but by June we will want to be sure of those long-lists.

    On home soil this year, the events that can survive without the public will have a good chance of going ahead, but the events that rely solely on footfall may not. County shows may be hit hardest on this score.

    One thing we can hope for is that this current predicament will kick-start the action we have wanted over our home circuit for so long. Clearly something has to happen.

    Even the European tours rely on wealthy enthusiasts to create facilities, and really all it would take is for one or two strong venues to be established in the UK for it to revitalise what we can offer. It’s worth the investment as they will make money back eventually.

    What we need is some supporters of the sport who have the finances to improve it to the European standard.

    We have to be optimistic, and although winter is a long slog with horses, spring days and a bit of extra light and sunshine brighten things up quite quickly. There will be things to look forward to.

    Ref: 28 January 2021

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