Health Committee - The Government's Alcohol StrategyWritten evidence from the British Horseracing Authority (GAS 23)

I am writing on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), the Governing and Regulatory body for the sport of horseracing in Britain, as well as on behalf of the wider British Racing industry to highlight both the importance of alcohol sponsorship to our sport’s funding and infrastructure and also the efforts we go to alongside such sponsorship to promote safe and responsible drinking.

The BHA recognises the importance of a responsible alcohol policy and Government having a strategy in this area, but urges the Committee make recommendations that are proportionate and take full account of their potential implications.

By way of introduction, British Horseracing is the second most popular sport in Britain in terms of attendance, with a record 6.15 million visitors to racecourses last year. There are 60 racecourses in Britain, ranging from those that host some of the nation’s biggest sporting events to far smaller local tracks that have strong and historic links to their local communities. These racecourses, coupled with the thoroughbred training and breeding industry across the country, generate an annual economic impact of some £3.5 billion and account for 100,000 direct and indirect full-time jobs, a significant proportion of which are in the rural economy.

Companies both large and small which produce alcoholic products sponsor races across the country—from blue chip sponsorships such as the John Smith’s Grand National Meeting at Aintree, the biggest race in terms of betting turnover and TV viewership each year in the UK, to smaller breweries entering deals with their local racecourses.

This funding stream is increasingly important for our sport given the recent downturn in the wider economy and the flaws—currently being tackled by Government—within our central funding stream, the Horserace Betting Levy, which has fallen by some 30% in recent years. Accordingly, any moves to restrict certain forms of marketing and sponsorship would have a damaging effect on the sport, and the economy overall, at a critical time.

British Horseracing, and the drinks companies that sponsor within it, are well aware of our corporate social responsibility, and take appropriate steps to promote a responsible drinking message. Drinkaware references are prominent within all relevant raceday marketing literature, and in this regard we would also draw a parallel to our responsibilities and strong track record in promoting a responsible gambling message to our consumers, and our links with Gamcare. Racecourses are safe and family-friendly environments—under 16s go free to the vast majority of fixtures—and our popularity with a wide range of ages and social groups has been earned by making sure we never neglect our responsibilities in this area.

By way of example, at last month’s John Smith’s Grand National Meeting at Aintree—as outlined above one of the major sporting and social events in the country, with over 150,000 attendees—each day’s race programme had prominent adverts from both the racecourse and sponsor promoting responsible drinking and making clear where soft drinks were available. Further, on Grand National day itself, Aintree racecourse and John Smith’s provided free water to racegoers and broadcast messages promoting responsible drinking on the big and CCTV screens throughout the venue.

The Racing industry acknowledges the importance of an alcohol policy which protects younger and vulnerable citizens and is not seen to glamorize drinking; the industry and our sponsors have worked closely to ensure that these products are promoted responsibly. We are committed to self-regulation and to continue working with the relevant sponsors and the Portman Group in promoting this message. Therefore, we believe that a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship, would be disproportionate and not evidence-based.

We would be happy to provide further information and/or statistics regarding the importance of alcohol sponsorship to the Racing industry if the Committee would find it useful as part of their deliberations. I would like to thank the Committee for providing the BHA with the opportunity to represent the Racing industry’s perspective on this important issue through this call for evidence and shall follow the Committee’s inquiry proceedings with interest.

May 2012

Prepared 21st July 2012