The government closed horse racing activities as they “do not correspond to the developmental needs of society”—nor to Xi Jinping’s new “red” moralism.
by Gladys Kwok
On January 15, the government of Macau announced that horse racing will cease there from April 1 next. The “impossibility of aligning horse racing activities with the current developmental needs of society” was mentioned as the reason. It is true that during and after the COVID-19 epidemic the Macao Horse Race Company, which was managing the activity, was losing money. However, other companies were ready to acquire its business, while the government decided to simply put an end to it.
Horse races survive in Hong Kong while in Mainland China there are hippodromes but betting is forbidden. As a specialized Hong Kong sport journalist wrote, with reference to the situation in Mainland China, “horse racing without gambling is basically showjumping.” It seems that the reason to end horse racing in Macau is not economical only but also ideological: putting together sport and betting is regarded as immoral by the Marxist ethic revamped by Xi Jinping. Hong Kong horse racing aficionados have reasons to fear, as they are already protesting what happened in Macau.
Horse racing has a venerable tradition in Macau. It can be traced back to the early 18th century when the Portuguese established a trading colony in the region. The sport gained popularity amongst the Portuguese elites, who organized the first recorded races in the mid-19th century. These races were initially held on a makeshift track near the Inner Harbour, entertaining both Europeans and locals alike.
The year 1912 marked a significant turning point in the history of horse racing in Macau, as the Macau Jockey Club was founded. This establishment brought about the formalization and regulation of the sport. The Macau Jockey Club organized regular race meets and introduced the concept of off-track betting, further fueling the growth of horse racing in the region.
The 1930s and 1940s can be considered the golden era of Macau horse racing. The industry experienced immense growth, attracting renowned jockeys, trainers, and horses from around the world. The racecourse in Taipa Island, named the Macau Jockey Club Racecourse, became a prominent venue for both horse racing and social mingling.
Horse racing in Macau faced a period of decline following World War II and during China’s Cultural Revolution. Political and social upheaval led to a temporary halt in racing events. However, by the 1980s, the sport had regained momentum and gradually recovered its former glory.
In the 21st century, Macau made significant efforts to modernize its horse racing industry. State-of-the-art facilities, improvements in horse training methods, and technological advancements all contributed to enhancing the sport’s appeal and sustainability. The introduction of live video streaming and online betting platforms made horse racing in Macau accessible to a wider audience, both domestically and internationally. Before COVID, horse racing played an important role in Macau’s economy and social fabric. The annual Macau Grand Prix was a major international event that attracted thousands of visitors and generates substantial revenue for the region.
Now, Macau’s horse racing has been killed. COVID did contribute to its demise, but the mention in the official press release of the “impossibility of aligning horse racing activities with the current developmental needs of society” confirms that equally or more important were the moralistic attitudes of Xi Jinping’s China.