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Government Rescue Package & Possible Return of Spectators a Double Slice of Good News for UK Racing

Pound Sign Frozen in Ice BlockBeleaguered UK racing looks set for a double boost in the weeks ahead after news of a £300 million rescue package were matched by the merest possibility that spectators could return to venues by Christmas.

The government has revealed more details about the emergency fund – known as the Sports Winter Survival Package – that a number of sports will benefit from; particularly those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Horse racing is towards the front of the queue, while greyhound racing, both codes of rugby, women’s football and basketball are also expected to be given a sizable grant. However, the top four tiers of English football have missed out on the package and so too will cricket.

The fund is set to be dished out as follows:

  • Rugby Union – £135 million
  • Horse Racing – £40 million
  • Football (women’s & National League) – £28 million
  • Rugby League – £12 million
  • Motorsport – £6 million

The remaining pot will be shared out between tennis, netball, basketball and greyhound racing, which will receive £1 million.

This is set to be the first chunk of funding afforded to the most affected sports, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) stating:

“Preliminary allocations have been made on a needs-based assessment process and reflect the submissions made from the individual sports, and the funding process will be overseen by an independent decision-making board and supported by Sport England.”

And the Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston, said:

“We know the vast majority of sports – many of which operate on tight financial margins – have been making serious cost reductions, such as locking down grounds, taking up the furlough scheme for many staff and halting excess payments.

“Whilst the Government’s overall economic package has provided a significant buffer, it is absolutely right that we now intervene to protect entire sports, and the communities they support, as we navigate this pandemic.”

Could Punters Be Back Before Christmas?

Queue Marks on Paving

It was revealed earlier this week that government officials have spoken to a number of leaders within football about the possibility of fans returning to the stands.

In areas with sufficiently low coronavirus cases that could even happen prior to Christmas, and that will be news that racing stakeholders have longed to hear.

Among them will be David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association. While he is sceptical about an imminent return to racing with fans, he remains hopeful of turnstiles being opened in the near future. He said:

“To bring 1,000 or even 5,000 people back is an admirable ambition and it would represent a pretty good outcome. It would also be very disappointing if football got something and racing did not.

“Government have largely been treating sports in the same way, so I would think there is a chance racing could move in line with football. However, I also expect there will also be certain restrictions, so that a racecourse in Tier 1 would not be allowed to accept people from Tier 3.

“I don’t think it is yet baked in stone, and I really don’t think it is certain we’ll be seeing spectators prior to Christmas.”