The WA branch of the Australian Medical Association has criticised the racing industry for continuing to conduct horse and greyhound races amid the coronavirus outbreak.
- Racing goes on behind closed doors with only essential participants such as stewards, trainers and jockeys
- WA racing officials believe it is in the interest of the animals’ welfare to let meetings continue
- The AMA wants the sport to shut down, like others, until the coronavirus crisis is under control
Despite most sports postponing or ending their seasons, Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA) said racing would proceed, albeit with stringent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Earlier in March, racing officials around the country moved to continue meetings behind closed doors, with only essential participants allowed to attend such as stewards, trainers, jockeys and staff needed for on-course operations.
Several race meetings are scheduled for WA this week despite regional travel restrictions coming into effect from midnight Tuesday.
RWWA said because exemptions applied to people travelling for employment, it believed persons essential for racing would be exempt.
Managing director for racing Charlotte Mills said it was in the interest of the animals’ welfare to continue racing.
“The point of difference I’d make very clearly is that we have a lot of animals under people who are employees’ care — we have thoroughbreds, standardbreds and greyhounds,” she said.
“At the point of which racing would shut down, the care of those animals and the welfare of those animals is something we’re contemplating at this time.
“These animals are bred to race, and while horses can spell and dogs can be in kennels for a period of time, it’s the ability for them to come back into the racing environment at a suitable time and the support that’s given to provide that opportunity.”
Ms Mills said RWWA was adhering to strict social distancing requirements.
“It’s actually a moving dynamic of people because they’re there for a race and then they leave,” she said.
“We are spacing out stalls, spacing out kennels, and we are asking people to race their animal and then leave the track.”
She said, on average, there would be 80 people at a time on the track.
“But it’s quite a large, open space as you’d appreciate at a racetrack.”
‘I can’t see why racing can’t wait’
But Andrew Miller, president of the AMA’s WA branch, said it was a disappointing decision and that horse racing “should be put on hold to respect the rest of the community”.
“It’s very difficult to understand why you would send such mixed messages to the public when we’re asking for everyone to stay at home at the moment,” he said.
“I don’t see why the horse racing can’t wait; it seems like the kind of sport that can wait until we get what is a humanitarian health crisis under control.”
Dr Miller said he believed it would be difficult for jockeys and staff at the racetracks to adhere to social distancing rules.
“As soon as people get together, and travel, and be in other places than at home, then the virus can more easily spread,” he said.
“We need to do everything we can to delay the spread so we can save lives, not just for the elderly and the vulnerable, but also for the fit and the health workers.”
Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia said the State Government was going to “work through the detail of the restrictions and is working with RWWA to define how they might apply to the racing industry”.
“Racing across Australia has been able to continue during COVID-19 in accordance with the Federal Government’s directions,” he said.
“I understand RWWA are continually monitoring the latest advice from government and health authorities and are implementing measures accordingly.”