Horse Racing Ireland has taken the decision to keep the sport going, behind closed doors, at least for now and with a number of new restrictions.
The decision is out of line with British racing which has called a halt to all activity, including the Grand National at Aintree, through until the end of April.
They were the ones though who blithely kept going with Cheltenham last week with crowds of over 60,000 so being out of line is not necessarily a bad thing.
There was serious unease then about the damage there might be to Racing’s long term image caused by a seeming inattention to the challenges we are all facing.
Similarly, this decision to keep going will not go down well across many areas. it is worth taking a look at why though before rushing to judgement.
We all understand the need to make dramatic changes to the way we work and the way we live. For businesses that rely on human engagement and collective gathering, these changes are most dramatic. We have seen already that entertainment by way of concerts and theatre performances have shut down. Even at club level where 22 or 30 players gathering to play is deemed too many sport has been suspended across the board.
We still need certain sections though to carry on. The health service obviously but also the media and the supermarkets together with their long supply lines.
Asking some to keep going is the way in which the many will get through.
So does the criteria by which Horse Racing Ireland have made their decision stack up?
First of all, it is counter-intuitive and so had to achieve a high level of consensus among a group of individuals that clearly thought long and hard about it.
France has joined Britain in shutting down but Hong Kong and Australia have kept going behind closed doors.
Secondly, the restrictions in terms of who is allowed onto the racecourse and how those taking part come together are strict and will be strictly enforced.
Thirdly it keeps a line of revenue from broadcast rights coming through which will go some way towards meeting the cost of keeping the horse involved active and fed.
Racing is an expensive exercise and with the current need for everything to slow down to a more basic level of existence, the money to keep horses alive has to come from somewhere.
If media companies are willing to pay to keep the show on the road for a mix of entertainment and gambling purposes, then that is something which can be of value so long as it is without risk.
There will be derision that providing an event on which to bet should even be considered at this time but the reality is that those events can easily be done in a virtual sense and if not being done by regulated companies here will be my others to itch the scratch of compulsive behaviour.
Horse racing Ireland is neither condoning nor facilitating something that would not happen otherwise. It is though keeping an important sector of society in rural areas, employment and the economy going.
The counter is that in order for a race meeting to take place it requires medical personnel who might be better served and more needed in the common good.
Racing has already moved to restrict that need to one doctor on the days where racing will take place and has made facilities and other medical personnel available to the Government. It would do that anyway in all likelihood but the offer still has to be made and has been.
If it can be kept going through to Easter and the Irish Grand national could be staged using cut down media coverage but still broadcast free to air it could provide an escape where we need it most, with family sweepstakes and a sense of collective coming together that sport provides.
That is unlikely given how fast the medical situation is developing but it’s the glimmers of hope that things will get back to normal that are important.
My initial reaction was that this choice was wrong and would potentially create an even bigger barrier for Racing to come back after the misstep of Cheltenham. On reflection though that may not be the case.
Creating no harm
We are trying to maintain as much as we can that keeps us going as we can, doing some good and creating no harm. That fits on the question of racing.
“Racecourses by their nature offer opportunities for social distancing that few other workplaces can,” said Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland.
“Nothing in Irish life is as it was a week ago, and in the same way, these are not race fixtures as we previously knew them, they are big open-air sites with very few people present and nobody on-site if they are not involved: once a jockey or trainer has finished their business for the afternoon, they are required to leave.”
“Furthermore, we have carried out risk assessments according to each individual racecourse facility, and some fixtures may be subject to greater restrictions and limitations to ensure social distancing is easily achievable and maintained.”
“The Board paid tribute to the flexibility shown by stable staff, jockeys, trainers, owners and employees of the IHRB, HRI, the media and broadcasters. Strict measures were imposed on them almost immediately last Friday but their actions, care and vigilance have ensured that social distancing is being observed and racecourses continue to be a safe working environment.”