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ITV defends decision after criticism of 'horrendous' Covid segment

ITV Racing: "It was natural to include a balanced range of reflections on that week as part of our coverage"
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ITV Racing has defended its decision to broadcast an eight-minute feature on Tuesday which examined the staging of last year’s Cheltenham Festival during the developing coronavirus pandemic.

The feature was presented on ITV’s main channel following the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and contained interviews with former BHA chief executive Nick Rust, trainer Emma Lavelle and ex-Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan, alongside archive footage.

The timing of the feature was widely questioned on social media, with figures such as owner John Dance calling it an “own goal” and Joe Chambers, racing manager for owners Rich and Susannah Ricci, labelling it “horrendous and totally unnecessary”.

Morgan, who initially expressed some sympathy for racing, was critical of the BHA in allowing the meeting to go ahead, and said: “When they said it was a pandemic at that point the leadership should have got together and said we are cancelling the rest of the festival regardless of what the government says – all bets are off. 

“There was a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation and I believe it was motivated by financial imperative and not public health imperative. Nobody needed to be told at that stage not to continue. As a governing body you cannot hide behind the government.”

Rust estimated racing could have lost £20 million through the cancellation of the fixture, but disputed the suggestion the BHA hid behind government guidance in its decision making.

However, he added: “Obviously we shouldn’t have gone ahead with Cheltenham, but only in hindsight.”

A spokeswoman for ITV Racing, which is broadcasting the behind-closed-doors fixture, said it was "natural" for a feature on Covid-19 to be broadcast given the discussions that have taken place since last year's meeting.

She said: "Given the unique circumstances and the volume of debate about the staging of last year’s Cheltenham Festival amid the onset of the pandemic, it was natural to include a balanced range of reflections on that week as part of our coverage build-up for this year’s event.”

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Obviously we shouldn’t have gone ahead with Cheltenham, but only in hindsight

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Emma Lavelle
E.W. Terms