COVID 19 will surely go away sooner than later. But the possibility of a second wave looms large. Hence the concept of Social Distancing will be the new norm in society. Be it at theatres, shopping malls, markets, sports events et. al. people will be wary of crowding around, with or without masks.
Yet, social distancing can be adopted in many places. But how will you ever adopt Social Distancing at racecourses? It is next to impossible.
People of every conceivable background - from a high and mighty to a groundnut vendor - frequent the racecourse. When it comes to placing a bet at the windows or behaving with some decency and dignity, following rules etc. there is no distinction. Almost every section is guilty of violating them.
Take the case of banning smoking in public places. Despite repeated announcements that it is prohibited, people smoke irresponsibly all over the racecourse. Take illegal betting. People place bets on the mobile right under the nose of the authorities who are expected to prohibit it.
So imagine placing bets in a bookmakers` ring or at the Tote windows and still follow Social Distancing. Even mobile betting terminals will not prevent this. The rush at race time is even worse. Clubs can open Tote betting facilities 2 to 3 hours before the first race to reduce crowding but the experience is that punters rush to place their bets even as the horses are loaded for the start of a race.
Windows or bookie stalls at race time present a different spectacle. At least 10 to 20 people will be thrusting their money at the same time to place a bet.
Surely crowds will dwindle for fear of not just being unable to bet but also the fear of catching an infection. Even if Covid19 is wiped out through medicine or vaccine, maybe some other virus could crop up. So it would be back to square one.
How then should race clubs, hoping that racing will commence in future, deal with the situation? The best possible option is to commence online betting. This will solve most of the problems. Developing software by which people can bet without having to go to the Tote window or the bookies` stall is the need of the hour. Every club must look into the matter in all seriousness with the future in mind. Not just the Covid19 scare.
As it is a large number of people use their mobile phones to place bets. Whether they are legal or illegal is for the authorities to find out. The same mobile could well be used to place an online bet. Maybe, the person could use his debit card or credit. Or maybe the club could issue prepaid cards of specific amounts, say Rs 1000, Rs 10,000 etc. which can be topped up for future use as is the case with prepaid mobiles. Registration of the mobile number, having an account, buying a prepaid card from the club etc. are all modalities which the clubs in the country need to work on. And pronto. Lockdown is a good time for such an exercise.
Though online betting could be the best solution in times of social distancing, we also have to take into account that many race-goers are not tech-savvy and they too need to be catered to. The biggest hurdle though is getting the government to approve online betting and the Reserve Bank of India relaxing the rules pertaining to the use of the credit cards for purpose of betting.
Innovation requires an experimental mindset. Constraints drive innovations. The important thing is to get out of the box and invent your way out. Will our turf clubs rise to the occasion? Innovation is the key to survival failing which the sport faces a bleak future.