The government in Rome are set for a good old ear-bashing this week as protests to secure funding for horse racing in Italy are scheduled to occur. Planned to take place outside the prime minister’s office on Thursday, the protests have been called by jockeys, trainers, racing officials and breeders to ensure the boot has a bright future for the sport.
The planned demonstrations aren’t the end of it, either. They come after more than a week of strikes, which were called by all sectors of the sport in objection to hefty cuts to the prize-money budget and funding for racecourses.
In a report by the Guardian, an Italian betting pundit has described racing in Italy as being “effectively bankrupt” despite the sport being hugely popular through the country’s history. However, the pundit also warned that the sport cannot “expect the recently appointed agriculture minister, Mario Catania, to agree to demands for increased state funding”, even though the sport’s backers say it supports 50,000 families nationally.
In the same report, an Italian journalist and former consultant to the European Pari-Mutuel Association, Dr Carlo Zuccoli, also commented, blaming “over-spending” and a “lack of financial control” for the cuts.
He said: “Unire, which is the Italian equivalent of something like the British Horseracing Authority, hasn’t produced a balance sheet for about 10 years and nobody has challenged that.
“Last year, between the Flat racing and trotting, Unire paid out €218m (about £179m) in prize money and a further €135m to the racecourses, as well as servicing their own debts and the administrative expenses of the sport. According to betting figures from 2011, Unire cannot have received more than €160m in commission from the Italian Tote betting system, which means there was a huge over-spend, unless there was additional funding coming from the government which we don’t know about. Tote betting is declining by 25% year on year, so the situation for this year will be even worse.”
He continued: “The betting model, through which money comes back to racing, is broken, and it is effectively bankrupt. As it stands, every race that is run is being run at a loss.”
According to the Italian journalist, everyone in Italy is broke and even the new minister has already made it clear there will be “nothing more for the sport” that the nationals love so much. “The only way forward is to admit that we need a new structure for funding racing and to start again with a clean slate. If we try to carry on as things are, racecourses will close and racing will not survive in Italy,” he added.
UK-based jockey Frankie Dettori is also one of those promoting the current state of the sport in Italy, wearing a shirt for the major international meeting in Hong Kong last month saying “Save Italian Racing”.
Are you Italian? Do you feel strongly about saving horse racing in the country? Yes, no? Either way, let us know what you think the future will hold for the sport.