Doncaster forced to defend St Leger festival plans after criticism from mayor
Doncaster has defended plans for next month's Pertemps St Leger festival after the town's mayor criticised the green light being given for the meeting, which will be the first in Britain with racegoers since lockdown.
The track was chosen by the government for a pilot ahead of the potential return of spectators to sporting events in October.
However, Ros Jones, Labour mayor of Doncaster since 2013, said: "National government have decided to allow the St Leger to go ahead with no involvement from myself or Doncaster Council.
"It is out of the control of me and Doncaster Council. Personally I think the risk of Covid infection is too great.
"We have been coping well in Doncaster, but this could all be put in jeopardy. I ask anyone thinking of attending the event to be sensible, try to maintain social distance and look after yourselves."
Mark Spincer, racing division managing director of Arena Racing Company, was taken aback by Jones's remarks and responded: "We are surprised by the mayor's comments with regards to this year's St Leger festival.
"We have held a number of meetings, in which council representatives were present, with regards to the proposal that was approved by DCMS.
"At no point have such concerns been raised. Equally, we have been in close liaison with the local safety advisory group and public health body, both of whom are happy with the proposal.
"Our primary aim is, of course, to deliver a well organised and safe event which will be for the benefit of not just the racing and sports industries but for Doncaster itself. We would, of course, be more than happy to meet with the mayor to address any of her concerns."
By contrast Rosie Winterton, Labour MP for Doncaster Central, actively campaigned for the festival to go ahead.
She told ITV: "The St Leger festival is a hugely important event for Doncaster and the region and, having lobbied the sports minister to support the bid, I am delighted that it has been approved to host a pilot event for the return of crowds.
"I very much look forward to Doncaster playing host to what will be such an important step forward for not just the racecourse but for the racing, sports and live events industries as a whole."
Jones's predecessor Peter Davies also opposes the current mayor's stance and said: "After seven months with almost every part of the economy wrecked, including racing by the looks of some of the things I've been reading in the Racing Post, something's got to give.
"Some of the smaller, privately owned racecourses are going to be up the creek if we don't get this show on the road.
"The racecourse is an important part of Doncaster's economy and it's vitally important that it gets moving again. We're all adult enough to be able to decide whether we want to go or not, nobody has forced anybody to go.
"If I think there's a danger I won't go – I don't think there's much of a danger so I may go, though the point is whether we can get in if it's 5,000 a day. The town needs the racecourse and the racecourse should be supported by the council."
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