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'Frustrated' racecourses press for crowd increase despite minister's concerns

This year's Royal Ascot was part of the government's Events Research Programme
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Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong has expressed his frustration over tracks in England continuing to be limited to crowds of just 4,000 but said the sport continues to press for an increase to match seated stadiums.

Racing, along with golf and motorsport, has been lobbying ministers to be treated the same as stadiums and to allow English courses to have attendances of up to 10,000 before the planned lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions on July 19.

The issue was raised in parliament on Tuesday in a debate over the Events Research Programme in which pilot events, including Royal Ascot, have been run to help inform decisions about the safe removal of social distancing.

Laurence Robertson MP asked sports minister Nigel Huddleston if crowd capacities would be equalised if the results of the pilots did not show any differentiation between the two types of venue.

However, Huddleston replied that there were still "some concerns about events where there is the potential for mingling and, taking public health advice, we have been unable to allow further opening at this moment in time".

He added: "I'm aware of the impact that has had on certain sectors, in particular racing, and that is exactly why we want to get the Events Research Programme moving and all these sectors open as soon as possible."

Armstrong said on Wednesday racing was trying hard to be allowed to expand attendances up to 10,000 people.

David Armstrong: calling for scientific evidence

He said: "Where we have challenged government as well is to demonstrate the scientific thinking behind not opening up for what they call standing events and events where people mingle, which obviously would include horseracing.

"Although that is put forward as a potentially higher-risk environment, we've not actually been shown any scientific evidence to demonstrate that."

Armstrong said he would be speaking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the subject later this week.

"I'm very frustrated by it," he added. "We have put forward a very clear case as to why we think we should be treated the same and why our environment is entirely safe, and we haven't been provided with any scientific explanation of why we can't go ahead on that basis."

Armstrong said the results from the trial at Royal Ascot, where clearance was given for up to 12,000 spectators a day to attend, might provide further impetus.

"Obviously the most important test event for us was Royal Ascot," he said. "It will take a little while to gather the results from Ascot and if that were to come back with very positive results we would continue to press even harder because that would be the first comparable event with real evidence."

Read more:

Crowds down but enough people to fulfil Ascot's role in government's ERP test

York chief hopeful of bigger crowds despite likely delay to 'Freedom Day'

Racecourse restrictions to remain after PM announces delay to lockdown easing

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We have put forward a very clear case as to why we think we should be treated the same and why our environment is entirely safe
E.W. Terms