Irish racing and gambling industry putting livelihoods ahead of lives – The Irish Times

Irish racing can be an incestuous echo-chamber at the best of times. But its decision to keep going behind closed doors in the face of a national health crisis is appallingly tone-deaf to the wider public mood . The board of Horse Racing Ireland has an official stamp of government approval. But this was their call. Racing is getting its short-term pay-off. What’s yet to be calculated is the long-term reputational price of such a crass decision. For everyone’s sake let’s hope it’s not too severe.

Examining the weekend fixtures at Thurles and Downpatrick in terms of winning and losing felt vulgar. Racing correctly argues that it is an industry as well as a sport. It’s an entertainment industry. Officials making predictions of tens of thousands of deaths in Ireland due to the Covid-19 pandemic makes entertainment irrelevant right now. Trying to apply a veneer of normality to such abnormal times is tasteless.

Failure to appreciate the scale of public fear about such an existential crisis hasn’t been confined to racing. The gambling industry has also struck a supremely cynical bum-note. Before the decision to close shops in Britain was made it acclaimed the weekend’s action as an oasis in a desert of no other major sport taking place anywhere in Europe. The argument was livelihoods have to be maintained. The obvious response is only after lives are.

Jockeys Conor Orr and JJ Slevin watch the Handicap Hurdle at Thurles on Saturday. Photograph: PA
Jockeys Conor Orr and JJ Slevin watch the Handicap Hurdle at Thurles on Saturday. Photograph: PA

Technically racing has covered itself. Government has given it a green light to keep going. Cheltenham hid under the same excuse to skip doing the right thing in favour of what was expedient. Irish racing got caught in the blow-back of that decision although effectively it was a cop-out by those in charge in Britain. But this call is Irish racing’s to own all by itself.

It’s only a matter of time before the sport grinds to a halt. But the decision to keep going is already made, the signal it provides to a wider public predisposed to believing the worst of a sector on the reputational skids already noted. Just because one can do something doesn’t mean one should do so.

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