A leading owner has taken umbrage to, and suggests his constitutional rights have been infringed by the vaccination requirement imposed on spectators attending racemeetings in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
The fledgeling new policy, introduced with effect from the Kenilworth racemeeting on Saturday 20 November. has elicited mixed response from stakeholders.
Maybe it’s time we cut Highveld Racing, Cape Racing and Nelson Mandela Bay Racing some slack to find a balanced moral, legal and logistically practical compass in what are uncharted waters?
In a joint statement issued to the Sporting Post on Wednesday 24 November, the operators acknowledge that ‘there are no case studies, this is a first for everyone.’
This was in response to a letter from an Owner, who has a runner in Saturday’s World Sports Betting presents the Gr1 Gauteng Summer Cup, which was copied to the Sporting Post after an invite to attend the Highveld flagship day on Saturday included the vaccination condition requirement.
The statement from the operators states that they would like to reiterate that they are purely following and strictly complying with a Government directive with regards to spectators.
They confirm that this aspect falls under the new government legislation specific to sports and events, which requires them to submit planning to the local Events Committees in each city, in order to get the required event licencing for all meetings with spectators and participants (as defined) in attendance.
The statement says that according to the government gazette no one is permitted to attend sport (and sports stadiums) without being fully vaccinated.
With Covid restrictions being lifted, racecourses and associated buildings are classified as sports stadiums, and anyone in those spaces is classified as a spectator or participant
And the law appears clear within the gazette as to what the penalties are for not abiding by the policy – a fine or 6 months imprisonment for the respective entity’s representative(s) not abiding by this legislation
The operators suggest that in implementing the respective gazetted requirements; they need to be as pragmatic as possible in terms of looking after stakeholder interests; while abiding by the given legislature in terms of allowing spectators/stakeholders back on course.
They confirm that their systems are constantly being refined and assessed, as there are no case studies and this is a first for everyone.
They give the assurance that the implementation will be streamlined as quickly as possible, to make it as simple as possible for everyone and create best practice.
They have also hired an expert consultancy firm in Alliance Safety who have activated national soccer and provincial rugby matches successfully across South Africa.
They will be working on all racecourses with the operators in implementing the systems and ensuring the management and planning is detailed and compliant.
For the record, Mike Lord, the Managing Director of Alliance Safety is the Chair of the Event Safety Council of South Africa, and a member of the SA Events council.
In addition he has a technical advisory role to various government organisations that have implemented the vaccination policy and has been at the forefront since the inception of Covid-19 and the Disaster Management Act, of motivating and writing respective planning for the events safety and hospitality industry to open up to spectators.
In his letter, the Owner says that he is reliably informed that horseracing falls under the agriculture industry and NOT sport industry the gazetted requirement compelling spectators at sports events to be fully vaccinated is not applicable.
The operators concede that the racing component does fall under the Agricultural Act, as that allowed for the transport of livestock during Covid-19 lockdown in order for racing to continue.
But is important to note that it is only applicable to the racing element – it does not include the sports stadiums, or the spectators and participants within them.
They point out that as Covid restrictions / lockdown levels started to lessen, and spectators were allowed to start attending sporting events, racing was required to fall in line with the department of Sports & Recreation in order to comply with their stipulations, in order to open the sport up to the public.
The process of applying to the department of Sports & Recreation for an event permit application has apparently not changed. This is the given process and we learn that it has been in place since the formation of the Sport and Recreations Act. However the legalities have changed within to suit current given legislation.
The process was also clearly defined and supported by the NHRA in correspondence shared on 12 November 2021.
The operators caution that, in the case of Saturday’s Summer Cup event and the forthcoming Cape Season, non-compliance would put racing in a position whereby they would not be allowed any stakeholders, participants or spectators to attend if they did not follow due process.
The owner also suggests that Kenilworth Racing actually correctly allowed non-vaccinated people to attend the racemeeting on 20 November, but he takes great offence to the fact that different coloured armbands – dependent on the individual’s vaccination status – were handed out.
He also says that he is aware that a number of trainers and grooms, and possibly a few jockeys and numerous staff have not been vaccinated and decline to do so.
He feels these are double standards and consequently the ‘treatment’ of owners is ‘absolutely shameful and downright disgusting’.
The operators point out that Saturday was the first time that the vaccination policy had been implemented in horseracing.
They acknowledge that ‘there is always room for refinement and improvement of the detailed plan and processes applied’, and undertake to do so.
They state that; all things considered, the new system was viewed generally in a positive light, and many spectators and stakeholders commented on how efficient it was.
This is clearly a learning process for all parties as racing adapts, and adopts and implements Government instructions.
Whatever your attitude to vaccinations, it is great news from where we were just months ago that the green light – is that a pointer to Joey Soma’s topweight? – has been given to move ahead with the Gauteng Summer Cup on Saturday.
The Department of Sports and Culture (DSAC), as well as the JOC committee were reportedly happy with the application process and plans, and have given their support for racing to continue and for Turffontein to host spectators on Saturday.
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The operators point out that this is in a large part due to them conforming and following the vaccination process outlined in the government gazette.
They undertake to continue to update all stakeholders and to refine the systems and processes as ‘learnings are recorded’ and life unfolds.
Let’s face it – this is not about handicapping, stipes, race-riding, or mediocre racecourse catering – there is no case law, history or text book to lean on.
We all want to race and get the seized engine going.
But clearly this is a learning process for all parties as racing adopts and implements Government instructions.
And maybe it’s a sign of the desperate times – but it is a fact that just a matter of a few years ago, a letter of this nature and an approach to the authorities by the media would have generally been met with middle finger disdain – and no effort would have been made to engage with us for the information of Joe Public – never mind the rest of racing’s stakeholders. So, maybe there is hope!
The undertaking by the operators – interestingly Gold Circle appear to be remaining startegically mum at this point – that they will continue to work together with all related parties to alleviate any impact on our stakeholders, participants and spectators to the sport; is to be welcomed.
This is about racing – not about lobbying or arguments for or against vaccination. That remains your prerogative and personal choice.