A letter from chairperson Susan Rowett to NHA members has been shared on the organisations Twitter feed, and is reproduced in full below:
April 15, 2020
Dear NHA Member,
As you are aware the COVID-19 virus has had an unparalleled disastrous effect on the world.
This led to our President Mr Cyril Ramaphosa declaring a State of Disaster, followed by the Lockdown period (27 March 2020 to 30 April 2020) in order to contain the spread of the virus and to try to flatten the growth curve in relation to further infections and fatalities.
The NHA is acutely aware of the devastating consequences of the suspension of racing. It affects all Stakeholders including our 6,000 plus members who own more than 10,000 horses in racing stables, pre-training yards and stud farms, as well as their 17,000 staff employed directly and thousands more indirectly. It threatens livelihoods and puts further strain on an industry already troubled by poor economic conditions.
As the Regulator of Horseracing, we do have significant responsibilities which we do not take lightly and we are taking stringent measures to protect and support our industry:
Actions – Covid-19
1. As the Regulator of the industry, the NHA Chief Executive was appointed by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to be responsible for creating and monitoring permit documentation of racing’s essential services, so as to ensure the welfare and well- being of the critical staff required for the care of our horses across the country. This has worked well.
2. We formed the Covid-19 response team as an effective body to ensure actions matched decisions, liaising in a unified manner with other bodies in racing for optimum outcome.
3. Our NHA Officials are monitoring the training centres and are carrying out their normal duties of inspecting stable yards, monitoring training operations and attending to any required certification, for example, starting stall sessions on a national basis. In addition, our Stud Book and Registrations Departments are attending to any applications that require to be processed. Most of the NHA Staff complement is able to work remotely from home during this period.
4. More recently, we have been involved with the Operators and the Racing Association in the planning for the resumption of racing and reorganisation of the programme, particularly Graded races, ensuring compliance as far as possible with International Race Planning Committee, Asian Pattern Committee, international and domestic partners.
5. We are currently in discussions with representatives of Government to ascertain if we will be allowed to resume racing after 30 April given the restrictions on public gatherings which affect both the racetrack and the betting shops. We hope to be allowed to resume on a smart limited attendance approach.
6. We are very mindful of the necessity to protect human life, whilst also ensuring the balance of livelihoods of all participants in our industry.
7. The NHA is aware that certain international jurisdictions have continued to race under limited attendance rules until normalisation occurs and we will endeavour to use these as examples of how Horseracing can and should continue in the appropriate environment.
Since the largest Operator Phumelela announced that it had made substantial losses in financial year 2019, the NHA has been keenly aware that it could precipitate a crisis in the economic health of our industry and it sought to engage with the key stakeholders, mindful of its responsibility to care for all of its members and their staff at all levels.
The NHA engaged in a Strategic Session in September 2019 to identify risks and challenges and engaged in discussions with the Chairman of Phumelela. It should be borne in mind that the NHA is the National Regulator, which is tasked with maintaining integrity in our Sport, it is not the business arm of the Industry. Its foremost purpose is to maintain honourable practice.
On 22 February 2020 the NHA chaired a gathering of Chairmen and CEOs of various organisations to discuss the way forward.
It became apparent at that meeting and in subsequent meetings that a new racing structure would need to be devised as the current model, whilst it may have served a good purpose for a lengthy period, had reached a point where it was no longer working well enough to sustain and advance the life’s blood of the racing and breeding industries.
This will take time, require patience and engagement to plan. Further discussions and considerations have continued to identify the concerns and seek solutions in a long and short term scenario.
The NHA are working with the Racing Operators, the Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust and a joint press release was sent out on 13 April 2020 explaining the current status and the intended revised dates of racemeetings and purses.
We commend the Board of the Racing Association for making R13.1 million available in terms of the Main Object of their Memorandum of Incorporation to safeguard the sport by assisting purses in the short term. A lot more remains to be done, but what is heartening is the realisation that we all have to work together in a common cause to overcome racing’s problems.
We are aware of financial implications causing the imminent threat of horses being abandoned. We are investigating an easier mechanism for transfer of fractional interests and change of ownership to streamline requirements. We urge all participants to do their utmost to ensure that the welfare of the horse is a priority.
The NHA seeks the earliest resumption of racing to begin restoring cash flows and in order to assist Operators, the Board agreed to sacrifice 50% of its levies due by the Operators for the period April to June 2020 and salary cuts to our staff have been applied.
We stand a time of great upheaval. Winston Churchill said “A Pessimist sees disaster in every opportunity, but an Optimist sees opportunity in every disaster”. There are always two sides to every crisis, and we in racing need to see current events as our Opportunity to make positive change, arrest declines and create a new version of our great sport and industry. Notwithstanding the economic challenges, racing has a proud history since the first meeting on the Greenpoint common in 1792. For 228 years we have prevailed through world wars, depressions, recessions and changing political climates – and we shall do so again.
Thank you to all for playing your part as we all work together to overcome these challenges.