Kevin Blake

How can tracks prevent the incidents of the last two weekends?

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What to do about violence on British Racecourses

The last few weeks have seen a number of deeply unpleasant scenes of violence amongst members of the paying public at British racecourses, namely at Goodwood and Ascot. Such is the way of the modern world, footage of what were essentially mass brawls went viral and have been generating a great amount of negative comment both inside and outside the sport.

With horse racing being a sport that is fundamentally insecure about its image and wider appeal, it was inevitable that a cluster of such events would prompt much soul-searching within the sport. Indeed, there has been talk of an epidemic of alcohol and drug-fuelled violence on British racecourses and numerous suggestions of all sorts of measures that could be implemented to reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring.

However, rather than being indicative of an epidemic of violence, these incidents are likely just an unfortunate clustering of a high-profile incidents. Perhaps their proximity is correlated with the football season coming to an end, perhaps it isn’t, but just because there have been two shocking incidents in as many weeks does not mean that we can expect it to happen every week going forward. That said, what the clustering of these incidents has done is to focus attention on what does seem to be an increasing problem and it will hopefully lead to racecourses giving more consideration to how best to prevent and deal with what are very damaging incidents.

Rightly or wrongly, many British racecourses have gone down the road of focusing on attracting customers that are there primarily to drink by offering promotions on alcoholic beverages and holding non-racing events and concerts alongside the racing. While this approach is evidently a profitable one for racecourses, it is their responsibility to those in attendance and to the sport of horse racing to ensure that such an approach isn’t to the detriment of the racegoer experience.

The incidents at Goodwood and Ascot may have only directly involved a tiny minority of those in attendance, but it is the fear and intimidation that such situations create amongst innocent racegoers that is just as big a problem. Even if fights don’t break out, few want to be present in an intimidating atmosphere full of tension where groups of inebriated and cantankerous people are allowed the run of things. No one that goes for a day out at the races should ever feel intimidated or frightened and just watching footage of such incidents is likely to be enough to put some people off coming racing as that is a situation no one wants to find themselves in the middle of.

While a day at the races has traditionally been known for the civilised behaviour of those in attendance, the British racecourses that have so enthusiastically embraced the influx of alcohol-focused attendees need to accept that such policies have brought about a change in the profile of many of their customers. 

With that in mind, it seems to me that what is clearly needed is for racecourses to upgrade and enhance their security arrangements, be it via a police presence and/or using security personnel that are trained and capable of both quelling potential violent situations before they happen and dealing with them if they do. In the vast majority of cases, they are unlikely to be required, but having them there will not only act as a deterrent to potential troublemakers, but just as importantly they will be likely to make innocent racegoers feel safer.

These incidents have unquestionably been damaging to the public image of horse racing in Great Britain, but one can only hope that the racecourses will react in an appropriate and effective manner. With high-profile meetings such as the Derby and Royal Ascot on the horizon, the last thing anyone needs is for this issue to raise its head again on stages such as those. For the good of the sport and those that follow it, the racecourses need to get this right.

Kevin Blake
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