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Efforts to resume racing as soon as possible are on a knife-edge says BHA chief

BHA chief executive Nick Rust: says racing will be ready to resume in a risk-managed way
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Nick Rust is confident racing will be ready to return as soon as conditions allow but admitted efforts to do so are "on a knife-edge" as the sport attempts to keep the government and the public onside.

The BHA chief executive also defended the decision for the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic and has warned that some racecourses may not survive the crisis.

Racing is suspended in Britain without a scheduled return date but the regulator is aiming to begin behind closed doors as soon as possible and hopes racing can resume in some form in May.

"We'll be ready to return at short notice when it's safe to do so but we need to be careful about how we manage the messaging to the government and the public," Rust told Luck on Sunday. 

"If we show we're looking to go ahead of a reasonable position then that would attract significant criticism. We have to bear that in mind. We're balancing on a knife-edge to ensure we can return as quickly as possible while keeping the government and the public onside."

"We're an industry that directly employs 17,500 people" – BHA chief executive Nick Rust

The BHA has been in weekly contact with the minister for sport Nigel Huddleston, with its chair Annamarie Phelps stepping in for Rust, who has met with him but has spent time off work through illness.

Rust said his team have been liaising with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a daily basis, as well as having conversations with officials at Downing Street. 

He has been making the case for the phased resumption of racing alongside other sports and believes the government recognises the fact that racing is a major industry and contributor to the economy.

"The government does not want businesses to jump ahead of its position in managing the crisis but we've put ourselves in a situation where we can say to them we're not just a sport," said Rust. 

"We're an industry that directly employs 17,500 people. That doesn't give us a right to overcome the national position but it does mean we're a powerful support to the economic effort of the country.

"When Dominic Raab announced the extension of the lockdown he said the government is balancing the demands of public health with the economic needs of the country, which offers some hope."

'The advice was to keep going'

Racing has been suspended since March 18 and the decision for the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead a week earlier, one day after Italy entered a period of complete lockdown, has been criticised by some.

"There's a lot of blame around the decision for the festival to go ahead but it was taken alongside government and medical advice. Many other activities, such as the Six Nations, took place that week and the advice was to keep going," said Rust.

"If we had cancelled racing against government advice I just don't think it would have been the right decision and it would have been widely criticised as being alarmist.

"However, the mood did change rapidly during the week and by the following Monday limitations on gatherings were introduced and the scientific advice changed. Of course we should be a bit worried, not necessarily because of the decision but the perception of it."

Work continues to create a flexible, phased plan for the resumption of racing and Rust revealed that an assessment of which racecourses could race behind closed doors under certain conditions is underway and could take into account the need to test individuals for the virus.

The Horseracing Betting Levy Board and Racing Foundation pledged £22 million in a bid to support some of the key areas of the sport and racecourses were the biggest beneficiaries of the package. 

There is up to £13.5m available in terms of advance payments for raceday services alongside loans of up to £200,000 per racecourse, which Rust believes will support the return of racing at a time when media rights may not be fully available due to betting shop closures.

"I'd like to think we can support as many racecourses as we can," said Rust. "The funding package provides assistance and we hope the most vulnerable tracks can take best advantage of it. 

"Not every track may be able to be saved. I just don't know. The world is going to be a different place after this crisis and not every business or organisation can survive, but we'll do our best to provide an environment to help these courses get through because they're an important part of the fabric of our sport."

While emphasising the importance of owners to the sport, Rust said the Covid-19 Racing Industry Group had worked on a number of proposals to put forward to the government but was not currently pursuing personal income tax relief for owners. 


Read this next:

BHA extends suspension of racing in Britain with no date set for sport's return

Ireland can be ready to race again with a week's notice says Kavanagh

Classic shake-up part of provisional plan for resumption of racing

Hardship package of £22m revealed to help in racing's 'incredibly tough battle'


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If we show we're looking to go ahead of a reasonable position then that would attract significant criticism. We have to bear that in mind
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