While the government of T&T has received justified compliments for their initial handling of the caronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic over time, some of the enthusiasm for their proactive actions have been diluted by their conservative approach to the reopening of the economy.
In the beginning, it was clear that where they were in doubt, their approach was to copy the actions taken by overseas authorities. This worked very well and based on all known statistics, and notwithstanding the low level of testing that continues to occur, this country ranks well ahead of many rival territories and certainly ahead of most of the more developed countries.
Those countries, which continue to battle with their own incidences of the virus, made the decision to reopen their economies much faster than this government. Is this because they were reckless or careless about the health of their citizen? This is highly unlikely. Is it because they are getting different advice from their medical advisers than we are? This is highly unlikely. Is it because the debilitating impact of the continued closure of their economies is greater than that in this country? This is highly unlikely.
More likely is that these governments have decided that the additional risk associated with the reopening is worth it. More likely is that these governments believe that a continued conservative outlook is not in the best interest of anyone.
The racing industry in T&T had been working towards a June 19 resumption of the sport in this country. From all indications, the Arima Race Club had consulted with many of its constituents, trainers, jockeys, owners, grooms etc and using the many examples of countries around the world that had resumed their racing – behind closed doors – had submitted similar proposals to the relevant health officials and line minister.
That the proposals would have been summarily dismissed without any due discussion is indeed very unfortunate and indicates the lack of appreciation by those in authority for the sport. Horse racing employs almost 1,500 individuals who depend on the sport for their livelihood. Many of these individuals, in tandem with their fellow citizens, have been earning very little if any income for the last two months.
Horse racing can safely take place behind closed doors. This has been evidenced in every country in which the sport has been taking place and in all of those in which it has recently resumed after all being locked down for some period. It could be that Trinidad’s successful past has resulted in those involved in making the decisions now believing that they are infallible but such hubris would be very misleading.
It could not have helped that the usual infighting and back biting in the sport reared its head over the last couple of weeks with the chairman of the T&T Racing Authority reportedly making comments re - the resumption - and some journalists apparently doing their best to highlight reasons why the sport should not resume. This continued pettiness around an issue in which the entire racing fraternity should be united is disappointing, even if not surprising.
It is not too late, however, for this matter to be made right. There are still over two weeks before the date that was tentatively scheduled for resumption and if there is a will, there is still a way for this to happen. The medical fraternity needs to be satisfied that the risk posed is extremely low, in fact no more than the risk posed with most of the other areas that are being reopened.
Horse racing is not a contact sport so that makes it even easier for the sport to resume. The Prime Minister indicated some empathy for the casino workers and trying to figure out some way in which they could resume their operations. Casinos are considerably more risky than horse racing when it comes to close contact since people must visit the casinos for it to make sense.
If the Prime Minister’s objective was to get the casino workers out to their jobs, patron’s use of the automated machines won’t achieve that. Almost all of those involved in horse racing, except for race day staff such as tellers, would be able to resume their employment with racing behind closed doors. The onus will be on the ARC to expand their online betting options but one hope they have been doing that over the weeks of lockdown.
Racing also mourns the passing of the affable Rolf Bartolo who passed away on Sunday. Rolfie, as he was popularly known, was a favourite around the tracks because his horses always tried their best and in the last two years, his fortunes had improved significantly with many good winners including the likes of Simon Peter.
Rolf never had a bad word to say about anyone and his towering presence around the track will be missed. His smile even in the face of all the adversity in racing and his greeting on a Sunday will long be missed by all in the sport. May his soul "Rest in Peace".