• Kyodo

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A total of 163 jockeys, trainers and others in horse racing have inappropriately obtained a combined ¥187 million ($1.73 million) using a government program for businesses hit by the pandemic, an industry association said Saturday.

The Japan Racing Association revealed the number after conducting a survey targeting 2,748 people concerned after allegations emerged of racehorse trainers and others taking advantage of the government scheme.

In all, 165 used the government program, and 163, including 13 jockeys, have returned or are in the process of returning the money they received inappropriately.

The association did not reveal the names of the jockeys, 19 trainers or others, citing privacy.

A tax accountant in Osaka, who is also a horse owner, is found to have encouraged people in the horse racing industry to apply for the government program and pocketed a maximum of 10% of the amount each received as a fee.

The JRA is planning to gather more details by interviewing the tax accountant, who is known to have helped about 104 people — or 60% of the 165 — receive government money.

JRA President and CEO Masayuki Goto said it was “unacceptable” to have received money without properly understanding the government initiative’s purpose.

“I apologize for causing problems that would shake confidence in the JRA,” Goto said in a statement.

Under the government subsidy program launched in May last year, a struggling self-employed person can receive up to 1 million yen if their revenue has more than halved from a year ago due to the pandemic.

For those in horseracing, an industry known to occasionally experience revenue volatility, meeting the requirement and becoming eligible for the program may have been easy, observers say.

When an application is filed, applicants must declare that all requirements have been met but do not need documentation proving how the spread of the novel coronavirus has impacted their business.

Yutaka Take, who heads a group of jockeys belonging to the JRA, vowed to prevent a recurrence by raising caution among all members.

There have been cases in which racehorse trainers and assistants applied for the program, saying their remuneration fell in line with a drop in prize money for the racehorses they had taken care of.

Still, such revenue deriving from prize money is “extremely limited,” according to Goto.

It also came to light that the JRA did not act on information provided by its labor union last October regarding the improper use of the government scheme, judging that it lacked substance.

In mid-February, farm minister Kotaro Nogami urged the JRA to investigate to better grasp the situation.

The organization is supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

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