Irish Racing to restart 'as soon as they are able'

The Irish Flat season got underway at Naas on Monday.
The Irish Flat season got underway at Naas on Monday.

Racing chiefs in Ireland have vowed to get the sport restarted ‘as soon as they are able’, following the suspension of all sporting events in the country due to the outbreak of Coronavirus.

Meetings had initially been allowed to continue behind closed doors under strict protocols, but that situation changed on Tuesday evening, when the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced stricter measures across the country to combat the pandemic.

It means that the many thousands of people who work in Irish racing, like their British counterparts, are now without an income until late April at the very earliest - and there's no guarantee that the current restrictions won't be extended further. 

However, in an address to the industry, the Chairman of Horse Racing Ireland Nicky Hartery vowed to get the sport restarted as soon as they were able to. He said: “We fully understand the anxiety that people are experiencing. Together we are facing an unprecedented public health crisis and the health of our people is paramount. There is also considerable anxiety around the worsening economic situation. 

“We are very aware that the thousands of people in our industry are facing into a great deal of uncertainty over the coming weeks and months. I would say to you - rest assured that we are working on your behalf with Government to put in place the supports necessary to get you through this crisis and back racing again as soon as we are able. Irish racing is a resilient sector and we have come through previous challenges such as Foot and Mouth disease and Equine Influenza. This is perhaps our greatest challenge, but working together, we will come through this too.”

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Ireland joins a host of countries around the world in suspending their racing, with only Hong Kong, the United States and some Australian and New Zealand states and regions the remaining few to be carrying on as it stands. 

And Brian Kavanagh, the Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland, explained that the measures were necessary to tackle the outbreak. He said: “We have run ten race fixtures behind closed doors over the last two weeks through the diligence of key stakeholders in the industry; key personnel in the racecourses, HRI and the IHRB staff; the Order of Malta and medical practitioners; and the media.

“What this has proven is that race fixtures can be safely staged while at the same time offering some level of business continuity for a crucial rural industry. The vital experience gained from staging these meetings behind closed doors may assist us to return racing as soon as possible. For the immediate future, however, there are more important priorities.”

The Board noted the potentially catastrophic impact of a sustained period without racing on all sectors of the industry and agreed that a series of measures to support the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of industry participants was necessary. 

He added: “Similar to most industries, the racing and breeding sector will have to look forward now. We will continue our engagement with Government around the supports that are available for the many people in our industry who have now lost their jobs and whose earning capacity has dramatically reduced. Racing and breeding supports almost 29,000 FTEs – mostly in rural Ireland – and a sustained period without racing impacts thousands of those jobs.

“When racing went behind closed doors, many staff including bookmakers, Tote staff, catering staff and other racecourse service providers stopped earning. As of yesterday’s stoppage, many others including jockeys, trainers, stable staff, media and many other service providers joined that list. In the long term, a cessation of racing has major financial implications for racecourses, sales companies breeders and betting organisations such as the Tote. Supports will be necessary for each of these areas and HRI will work with all parties to achieve this.”

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