Uncertainty looms large over the start of racing in India in the near future. The British Horse Racing Authority has just announced an ambitious racing programme if permission were to be given for resumption of racing sometime later this month. The Bangalore Sumer Season was to start sometime in the second week of May but given the current situation, racing may not resume in quick time unless there is a turnaround in the thinking on the government to permit sporting activities to resume without placing restrictions on the crowd. The lockdown has impaired the financial capability of the turf clubs and if activities don`t resume quickly, racing is in danger of a permanent lockout.
Physical distancing will be the new norm and for a sport like horse racing, it is impossible to follow such a protocol because the lifeline of the sport is betting in a crowded environment in the absence of online betting. The online betting facility is available in almost all racing jurisdictions in the world but our authorities have been unable to extract any concession from the government because they are good at petty politics but poor at lobbying. Given the dynamics of the new world order which has been dramatically impacted by the contagious coronavirus, things can never be the same again. The onus is on the administrators of the sport to think of new ways to ensure that the sport doesn`t die a natural death. Sadly, nothing much seems to be happening. One is not sure if the Turf Authorities of India is planning to have a virtual conference to discuss the way out.
The Bangalore Turf Club recently announced that it is cancelling the licenses of all the jockeys with immediate effect. The licenses of the jockeys are renewed each year at the beginning of May and as such, the decision to cancel the license of the jockeys makes little license as racing is not going to resume shortly. When the time comes, the turf club would surely have to license the jockeys as racing cannot run without them. The only purpose that the letter would have served is to show its anger on the Jockeys Association of India which had raised serious issues following the turf club not putting in place the protocols and allowing jockeys who were not residents of the club premises coming and working the horses. There was a real danger of those inside being exposed to the dangers of contracting the virus from those coming from outside. The Jockeys Association of India President Pradeep Chouhan said that following the association raising the concerns and asking the clubs to stop working of horses, all the turf clubs put in place various protocols by not allowing anyone from outside to come and work the horses. The turf club was also forced to make arrangements for providing daily essentials though the Bangalore Turf Club has not been generous in giving anything free unlike other turf clubs in the country where minimum needs have been taken care of.
The Jockeys Association of India has been leading by example by advancing a sum of Rs 10,000 per month to needy jockeys to be adjusted against their retirement benefit. The jockeys association has said they have extended the facility to more than 180 jockeys and the same will be reviewed depending on the way the situation develops. ``It is easy to blame the jockeys and its association for any suggestion or concern it expresses to the authorities. ``We know the pain of those who are not able to buy their daily need not only during COVID 19 but in normal circumstances as well. We have to look after them and their families too. JAI is not only looking after the jockeys and their immediate family but also addresses the medical needs of their parents as well. People just see the top 20 riders of India and think that the jockeys are making huge money but they don`t see the plight of about 450 jockeys who are struggling. The top 20 jockeys are taking care of the other jockeys by their contribution from their earnings to the Jockeys Association of India,`` said Chouhan who is the President of JAI.
There is no word from the Bangalore Turf Club about the fate of the summer racing season though there was a notice issued on May 3 that the supplementary entries for classics would close on June 8. There has been a deafening silence from the club as to the fate of the summer season and when they believe racing could resume though the club mandarins are busy with their politics. The club forced its Secretary Pradeep Kulkarni to resign because he did not come for work for two weeks. He was following the protocol of being quarantined as somebody in the apartment complex where he stayed had reportedly tested positive for COVID 19. The BTC authorities believe in throwing their weight. They could have waited for the COVID situation to improve before asking its Secretary to quit as he was getting the hang of the job. The club is now without a mandated Company Secretary though they won`t` come into a problem because of this. Effective communication is not a forte with BTC.
The turf club has also abdicated its responsibility as far as the daily wage earners are concerned. Clubs like Hyderabad Race Club gave an onetime payment to its tote workers while giving ration and other necessities to daily wage-earning course workers. The RWITC Committee members and a leading racehorse owner Dilip Thacker have taken the lead in mitigating the problems of the racecourse workers by their welfare measures. BTC has not extended such gesture though for a photo opportunity, they presented a cheque of Rs 25 lakhs to the Chief Minister`s Relief Fund while keeping its own faithful staff of daily wage earners hungry. They don`t believe that charity begins at home. The turf club is also at loggerheads with the trainers and owners body with regard to credit given as Basic Training Fee. The club wants to withdraw the facility. The economy runs on credit but BTC authorities think otherwise. The same people were actively considering spending about Rs 3.5 crores on upgrading the facilities at the veterinary hospital while denying credit which could cause serious problems if more owners are unable to meet with their monthly commitment in the light of the lockdown which has compromised the liquidity available with the majority of people.
The BTC should show statesmanship and put aside its petty egos to work towards ensuring that it doesn`t throw the sport into greater crisis by its rigidity. Magnanimity in these times of need would work to everyone`s advantage and prevent a lockout like situation.