It's A Cultural Thing?

Perhaps I am odd?

Well, actually, many who know me would probably say I am odd but that is another story.

The context in which I make the statement today is I seem to be one of the small minority who does not need to have alcohol to enjoy a day at the races. I can enjoy the atmosphere, excitement and passion without having to resort to ingesting chemicals to help me enjoy the day.

Now let me make one thing clear before we continue, I have nothing against alcohol per-se, indeed it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to denounce what some call the demon drink – I was once a heavy drinker myself.

What does irritate me is people who cannot take their drink. For all the vast amounts of alcohol I used to drink I never once got in a fight, never once became a nuisance to others, unless you classify telling terrible jokes as being a nuisance!!

Yet an increasing number of drinkers now become, at best an irritation, at worse aggressive boors. Witness most high streets most, but especially weekend, evenings.

Now the problem is increasingly becoming prevalent at UK racetracks. There are more and more reports of fisticuffs breaking out as a result of some drunk taking exception to some perceived slight. Increasing numbers of, for want of a better word, “normal” racegoers are being put off by the underlying atmosphere that increasingly develop at some courses.
It used to be that one or two courses had a reputation for being “lively” – now the number is increasing.

The more observant amongst you will have noted in the preceding paragraph but one I used the words “prevalent at UK racetracks”, this was a deliberate choice of wording as it does seem to be a UK problem.

I am a frequent visitor to Irish racetracks, where any meeting lasting two days or more is dubbed a festival and where there is a festival the Irish party. And do they know how to party, the beer (or more precisely the “black stuff” flows), indeed it undoubtedly flows a great deal faster than the beer at UK courses.

Indeed some Irish racing festivals, Galway in particular springs to mind, tend to be a drinking festival with some racing tagged on.

Yet I have never once seen a major punch up at an Irish track, I have never felt uneasy and intimidated. Yes I am sure things do sometimes kick off at Irish courses but I would suggest it is a rarity.

Last weekend I was at Longchamp. Again the drink both wine and beer was flowing yet the atmosphere was relaxed and joyous, no doubt helped by the atmospheric run of Sea The Stars. But even in previous years, without such a unifying distraction, there has been no edge.

Go racing in the US or Canada and there is no opportunity to get drunk or cause trouble. Alcohol sales are strongly controlled, both in the amount you can buy and where it can be drunk.

Racing For Change wants to attract more racegoers, wants to make racing a more enjoyable experience. One answer must be to address the issue of drinking and drunken louts.

Of course there is a paradox in that alcohol sales are undoubtedly the biggest source of income for most courses. Having once been the licensee for a Sports and Social Club, I know exactly how much profit is to be made from alcohol sales and you can bet your bottom dollar racecourses have even better deals than we were able to negotiate!!

I also realise there is a cultural aspect as well. Apologists will say what happens in the racecourse is only a reflection of society in general, that is not an excuse it is simply buck passing.

There are strict conditions relating to the granting of an alcohol licence, principal amongst them is you should not serve alcohol to those who are already intoxicated.

The problem is, generally, racecourses employ youngsters with neither the knowledge of the regulations not the ability to enforce them.

There needs to be a stricter application of the licensing regulations at racecourses. Already drunk racegoers should not be served with more alcohol.

The excuse it is less trouble to serve them is exactly that, an excuse. If you have the privilege of having a licence to sell alcohol then you must have the means of enforcing the rules, even if that means employing extra security.

When there is alcohol fuelled violence at a racecourse the licensee should be given a formal warning, should there be a repeat their licence should then be suspended for the next meeting. If there are problems after that then a longer suspension should be applied.

It will only need one course to have their licence suspended for all of them to take action – it shouldn’t be that way but c’est la vie.

What it also needs is someone to make a complaint to the licensing authorities next time they see the drink rules being flouted at a racecourse. Perhaps I should do so next time I see a drunken incident kick-off.

I suspect I will not have to wait that long.        


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