Joe Scanlon, Chairman BGRF
I am sure no one needs reminding how difficult a year this has been for all sports and our experience is no exception. Having to face such disruption to our way of life, brought about by the worldwide pandemic on a scale that has never before been experienced in peacetime, has been a challenge for us all.
Turning now to the impact this has had on the BGRF, lengthy national lockdowns, interspersed with many changing restrictions, from 26th March 2020 onwards and then again from 6th January to 17th May 2021, resulted in a major loss of income both following the early weeks during which no greyhound racing was permitted and the several months of enforced closure of betting shops in the high streets. At the time of writing, thanks to the work of the NHS and its army of volunteers, I am hopeful that now that all but a few restrictions have been lifted, life may once again return to something akin to normality.
Sadly the impact of Covid-19 on our friends in Scotland has been felt much more severely. Throughout the pandemic, Shawfield Stadium in Glasgow has been closed and Scottish retail betting shops have either been unable to trade or, in some areas, faced severe restrictions. Only now, at the time of writing, are they able to trade with ‘normal’ Covid-19 restrictions on a par with the rest of the UK. We fear this will have a serious long-term effect on both greyhound racing and the smaller independent bookmakers in Scotland.
The effect of the pandemic on our income will continue to be felt for some time to come. In addition to a fall in income last year of over £2m, this current year will also be severely impacted. This is because our collection periods run six monthly in arrears. Consequently, for the first half of 2021 we are anticipating a substantial drop from that which we might otherwise have expected. I am nonetheless pleased to report that the BGRF was able to continue to assist the GBGB with emergency welfare-focused funding, as reported at the end of last year, helping to bridge the gap caused as a direct consequence of the lockdown. I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of these emergency payments that the GBGB, in turn, were able to provide. The cessation of racing left many trainers with no income and in extremely difficult circumstances. This additional funding helped to provide kennels with the basic needs for the greyhounds in their care as we concentrated on our core value of animal welfare. At the same time we were able to maintain our support for welfare and integrity measures at the stadia so that racing could continue behind closed doors.
For their part, the GBGB not only responded strongly to the emergency but also continued to develop their welfare policies so that, as we emerge from Covid-19, UK greyhound racing can be assured of world-leading welfare and integrity cover. Their kennelling standards, which are being rolled out across the many private kennels of professional trainers, will be a major expense for the sport but one that is vital so that we can continue to be proud of our welfare provisions across the board.
Sadly, over the past year the sport has lost Poole, Peterborough and Belle Vue Stadia. Three fine racing venues with long racing histories that were unable to continue in business, whilst others have also faced economic hardship. There cannot have been many other major sports as adversely affected as greyhound racing by Covid-19.
There have however been some positives in the last twelve months. Thanks to the help of the Betting & Gaming Council, and in no small part the chair, Brigid Simmonds, we now have all the major UK-facing online betting companies signed up to the BGRF’s Memorandum of Understanding. I would like also to thank the work of the DCMS and its officials for their continued support behind the scenes in drawing attention to the needs of the industry.
Despite the forced restrictions on spending, one of the major achievements has been the hugely successful launch of the Greyhound Retirement Scheme. All greyhounds starting their racing lives now do so with a cash payment from their owner which is lodged with the GBGB at the time of registration. On retirement this sum is matched by the GBGB enabling the greyhound to take with it a bond to one of the many homing charities working both under to auspices of the Greyhound Trust or independently, who do so much good work in finding ‘forever homes’ for our greyhounds. In the first nine months of the scheme over seven thousand greyhounds were signed up with over two thousand placed in rehoming centres. I believe this to be one of the greatest achievements I have witnessed in my time as chairman by helping to provide the welfare all greyhounds deserve at the end of their racing career. This has been achieved by all sections of the industry coming together in common purpose and I commend the board and management of the GBGB for this superb initiative.
I must also pay tribute to the continued support of our many contributors, both longstanding and those that have recently joined, all of which are noted on page 22. Without the committed support of bookmakers, this great sport of ours would be unable to survive. Despite the exceptional challenges of Covid-19 greyhound racing has proved itself to be robust and popular. I am confident that once general trading conditions are restored to normal, we can look forward to a healthy and prosperous future for our sport.