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Barry Hearn: spend more on preventing fights or risk losing core market

Sports promoter Barry Hearn: sickened by recent violent scenes at Goodwood and Ascot
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Top sports promoter Barry Hearn believes there is a common-sense answer to racing's recent on-course problems, but warns it comes at a financial cost.

Hearn has huge experience as the promoter of major events in the worlds of snooker, boxing and darts, at all of which – and boxing and darts in particular – enjoyment for many goes hand in hand with the consumption of alcohol, while he is also a former chairman of Leyton Orient.

He was not at Goodwood or Ascot when recent fights broke out, but has seen film of the incidents and the reaction of innocent racegoers.

A smashed window at Ascot, where Saturday's meeting was marred by violent scenes. Picture: Annabel Whitchurch
Hearn believes that in the modern world enforcement works better than education, and reckons courses must be prepared to spend more money on security.

He said: "I've seen the videos of what happened at Ascot and I've shown them to my wife, who is a much more regular racegoer than me. We were both horrified, but what I saw was a maximum of three guys with coloured jackets who, without being disrespectful, were perhaps not trained or schooled to the appropriate level.

"You don't want people stewarding who want to fight, or people who are frightened of a fight. You need people who can handle that sort of situation and who won't, and don't, tolerate that sort of behaviour because it affects your whole brand value.

"There are plenty of ways of ensuring standards are upheld, but it's not one-way traffic and it's not something you can ask people politely to do. You have to enforce it, and enforcement involves spending more money."

He added: "Clearly you want people to enjoy themselves, and for many that will involve alcohol, but at the same time you expect certain standards of conduct.

"However, you can't rely on people necessarily to adhere to the standards that were expected historically, because the parameters have changed. Racecourses therefore have to alter their own parameters and change their outlook too.

"In this changing world you have to take precautionary measures to make sure the volume of your customer experience is not such that it will put others off or discourage them, and the only way of doing that is by spending the appropriate amount of money on the appropriate measures."

Besides liaising closely with the police, Hearn spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on security at the World Darts Championship, where he might expect 60,000 or 70,000 spectators. Some will be plain clothes, some uniformed.

Rob Cross celebrates at the World Darts Championship, where hundreds of thousands of pounds is spent on security
He said: "I take it seriously, because you are only ever one incident away from saying, 'I wish I had done more'. Once it's happened you are on a freefall towards your core market potentially rejecting you as a form of entertainment. You are gambling your whole future, so you've got to get it right, and that means you've got to spend more money."

Hearn accepts that racecourses present different challenges to many of the events he promotes, but said: "It's true you're dealing with a much bigger floor area, but when we have boxing at Wembley we might have 90,000 people, and they are all outdoors.

"You have to adjust to the individual circumstances and that applies within racing too: Ludlow is different to Ascot, and a Wolverhampton evening meeting will be different to a Saturday afternoon at Goodwood.

"It is more difficult but racecourses must get round it to make sure customer experience is not impaired."

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I've seen the videos of what happened at Ascot and I've shown them to my wife, who is a much more regular racegoer than me. We were both horrified

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