Racing carries on as PJ McDonald tells jockeys 'the responsibility lies with us'
BHA and government quash rumours that elite sport will be suspended
Senior jockey and president of the PJA for Flat riders PJ McDonald has backed his weighing-room colleagues to "do the right thing" in redoubling efforts to keep race meetings going during the coronavirus pandemic.
McDonald described his fellow jockeys as being committed to following strict biosecurity protocols because they "know a lot of the responsibility lies with us".
McDonald's rallying cry came on the day when persistent rumours that racing and other elite sport could face a shutdown were quashed by UK government officials.
Officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are understood to have told racing that no formal meetings concerning a shutdown of sport have taken place.
Over the weekend, rumours had circulated widely on social media suggesting that the government was poised to order a halt to sport. These were not substantiated by the Racing Post in conversations with several senior industry sources.
Several media outlets began the day with reports that Boris Johnson's Westminster government is concerned about adherence to Covid-19 restrictions in football, with several scenes from matches over the weekend – including videos of dressing-room celebrations – causing consternation.
Throughout the pandemic, racing has stressed to government its crucial importance to the rural economy, with around 20,000 people employed by the industry, and the stringent biosecurity measures in place on racecourses to prevent the spread of the virus.
McDonald led by example in August when giving up his rides at Newcastle while awaiting the results of Covid-19 tests on his three children, all of whom had been suffering from persistent symptoms.
Speaking on Monday, McDonald said that as the most visible human participants in racing, jockeys owed it to themselves and the rest of the industry to keep the sport as safe as possible.
"The lads have been 100 per cent because I think they know a lot of the responsibility lies with us," said McDonald. "There's a lot of people's livelihoods at stake at the minute in tough enough times. The least we can do is abide by the rules that Jerry [Hill, the BHA chief medical adviser] put in place to ensure that we got back, and to implement them as best we can."
Racing has been spared the outbreaks of Covid-19 which have led to the postponement of fixtures in other sports, with Aston Villa the latest English Premier League club to have a match called off due to a number of positive tests across playing and coaching staff.
British racing has not instigated routine tests in the same way that top-tier football has but McDonald said that jockeys had taken personal responsibility for keeping the virus away from the racecourse.
As racing continues behind closed doors, it is crucial participants adhere to protocols, at racecourses, on yards, and at home to protect the industry.— BHA Press Office (@BHAPressOffice) January 11, 2021
Maintain 2m social distance
Wear a face covering at all times
Wash hands frequently
Do not go to work if you are unwell pic.twitter.com/D4foLkOqvZ
"I have never had to bother the BHA with tests and a lot of us have done it ourselves," said McDonald. "As regards anything else they have gone above and beyond. Everything has been very clear in saying 'these are the rules, this is what you do.' And they are always at the end of the phone.
"In racing everybody doesn't always sing off the same hymn sheet but with this pandemic, I think everybody realises how important it is for all of us to pull together and do our part for an industry that we all make a living out of.
"I think that's the main reason that, touch wood, everything is running so smoothly at the minute."
The role of Hill in laying out clear guidelines and offering personal support to jockeys has been key in the eyes of McDonald.
"Jerry has put in a hell of a lot of time," said McDonald. "There are a lot of jockeys around and Jerry has been on the phone, morning, noon and night, to whoever rang. He's been so good and I think when everybody sees how hard he's working and everything that he’s putting in place, it gives everybody else a little bit of a kick up the bum to make sure they do their part.
"The lads know that my livelihood and my family's health and safety lies at their door as well. There's no point in me being careful and being 100 per cent in doing everything right, if the lads are not doing it. Everybody had to pull together and they've been brilliant.”
The Scottish Football Association suspended leagues below the Championship for three weeks on Monday. In its statement announcing the decision, it noted those tiers were "predominantly part-time" and emphasised the importance of "safeguarding commercial broadcasting contracts that sustain the professional game".
While racing is administered Britain-wide by the BHA, health is a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament, as well as the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies.
Delly Innes, of Scottish Racing, said on Monday: "The Scottish government has again confirmed that racing will continue behind closed doors. It is crucial that participants continue to adhere to protocols, at racecourses, on yards and at home to protect the industry."
While representatives of professional sport across France were meeting on Monday to discuss a possible suspension of upcoming matches against British teams, racing ties between the two countries can continue for the moment.
Entries remain open to British-based horses with the stipulation that staff travelling with them must be in possession of a negative PCR test for Covid-19 taken within 72 hours of travel.
As the Racing Post reported on Friday, moving horses between Britain and EU countries is already in a parlous state owing to extra certification of lorries and staff required since January 1 in the wake of Brexit.
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