Making predictions on how horseracing will be affected long-term by Brexit is about as difficult as trying to envisage how this momentous political event will change all our lives in the years ahead. We just don’t know.
But, right now, we must remain optimistic that, short term, the Brexit vote will not delay racing’s plans for the setting up of a new funding system to replace the levy, due in the spring of next year.
It would certainly be a bitter irony if European politics were to emerge again as a barrier to our sport receiving its full entitlement from betting on British horseracing. Just a dozen years ago, it was the European Court of Justice that proved the downfall of a new commercial funding system based on the principle that the compilation of runners and riders – the horseracing programme – constituted an intellectual property right.
This was pushed through with enormous energy by the then British Horseracing Board’s Chairman Peter Savill and his very able Chief Executive Greg Nichols. Under the new system, Irish bookmakers were already being subjected to proper audits and paying a percentage on the bets they took on British racing, generating an income that far exceeded anything that British racing had previously received from them.
In 2004 the levy was being wound down in preparation for this scheme to be rolled out over the full estate of British bookmakers – and, in fact, any betting operator that was processing bets on British horseracing by the use of runners and riders data.
With barely contained glee, the racing world looked forward to a much improved and sustainable funding system, only to find that it would fall at the very last fence when the European Court of Justice intervened, ruling that the new basis for funding was not legally enforceable.
All hell then broke loose with racing having to go back to the government ‘cap in hand’ and plead for the levy to be continued.
With the events of recent weeks, one certainty is that it will not be a European court that trips us up this time, though it is entirely possible that circumstances surrounding the European exit will cause our new funding system to be put on the back-burner.
Although, inevitably, some of the gloss has been taken off the fine work done by the BHA and others in racing to foster excellent relationships with former cabinet members – the Prime Minister and Chancellor among them – it is good news that Matt Hancock, racing’s greatest cheerleader in government in recent years, moves to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.
With the events of recent weeks, one certainty is that it will not be a European court that trips us up this time
It is, in any case, inconceivable the new government would take a different approach to racing than the former one, especially as work for the new legislation required to create levy replacement will continue to be carried out by the same civil servants at DCMS.
There must also be a good chance that the enormous legislative programme required to extrictate Britain from the EU will move at such a snail’s pace that the statutory instrument needed to pave the way for racing’s new funding body will be waved through before the heavy lifting of the new legislative programme starts to gain momentum.
A further important consideration for racing is that soon there will be no requirement to get approval from Brussels for racing’s new act to be implemented and therefore no concerns that the legislation will have to be watered down to circumvent those state aid laws that have proved such a thorn in racing’s side over the years.
Despite the uncertain world in which we live, there remains a growing recognition of our sport’s economic, cultural and social importance across all political parties. It is a good position from which to move forward, whatever the effect of Brexit.