By Nicholas Godfrey
South Africa: The resumption of horse racing in South Africa is now on indefinite hold after the sport was “deemed not to be an essential service” by the government, scuppering plans for a restart.
Scheduled cards at Greyville on Wednesday and Turffontein on Thursday have therefore been abandoned – and declarations and entries for all meetings beyond have been suspended until further notice as the coronavirus crisis continues.
National Horseracing Authority (NHA) chief executive Vee Moodley issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon outlining the latest state of play in a seeming impasse with government, which had been expected to give the go-ahead for racing to resume last week at Kenilworth on Friday.
However, the meeting was abandoned at 16 hours’ notice when nothing was heard from government, leaving the industry on tenterhooks awaiting a decision. Subsequent meetings have also been either cancelled or postponed, including a G1-laden showpiece card at Turffontein on Saturday.
Government finally broke its silence on Tuesday – and it was a resounding ‘No!’ as the NHA received feedback from the National Coronavirus Command Council outlawing any restart in the current climate.
“The Command Council having reviewed the submissions of the NHA and aligning it with the regulations and guidelines related to essential business/service, racing was deemed not to be an essential service,” said the statement.
“An addendum to our submissions was then submitted to the Command Council to support our assertions that racing is a low risk, a non-contact event with high economic value as the racing events are a critical element in the supply chain and a related agricultural service.”
South Africa is currently under national Lockdown Level 4 – and government is not granting horse racing the necessary ‘agricultural’ status for it to resume.
Moodley explained: “At this point, the Command Council having taken into consideration our addendum, as well as other industry stakeholders’ submissions, it was decided that racing could not be separated from gambling activities like casinos, and these are currently not included under Level 4.”
His statement added: “Government’s priority at Level 4 is on organised projects/events that are focused on those that are related to the provision of food, water and sanitisation.”
Moodley said the NHA would continue to press racing’s case but the sport will not resume until the government drops the alert level to Lockdown Level 3, which would seemingly allow the sport to take place. “We are hopeful that the announcement to Level 3 will be announced within the next 21 days,” he added.
• Learn more about South African horse racing at Turf Talk