Government’s decision to sponsor Russian jockeys raises questions

Last week, the government-sponsored horse races with the participation of Russian jockeys, despite an international ban due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

It is understood that the races, organised by the Malta Racing Club in Marsa on Sunday, raised concerns among foreign diplomats, especially from the EU, who questioned the timing of these races and the public funding used.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Clifton Grima, who is responsible for sport, has refused to answer The Shift’s questions about how much public money was given to the Malta Racing Club for this event and whether this was appropriate given the ongoing international conflict and Malta’s position as part of the EU.

John Huber, the chairman of Equestri Malta, the government body that sponsors the event, confirmed that it had supported the races financially but did not divulge any details.

Huber told The Times of Malta that the races were fully compliant with International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules, and the Russian jockeys were not allowed to compete under the Russian flag but under a “neutral flag”.

Four Russian jockeys from the Russian region of Bashkortostan (also known as Bashkiria), part of the Russian Federation, participated in the races at the Marsa racecourse.

Radiy Khabirov, the region’s president, was elected in 2018 on the recommendation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of the races held with Russian jockeys last Sunday in Marsa.

A Malta Racing Club spokesman told The Times of Malta that Maltese jockeys competed with their Russian counterparts in these races as “a sign of good relations that exist between the Maltese horse racing body and that of the Russian region.”

The Shift is informed that public funds were used to pay for the Russian jockeys’ travel, accommodation and other expenses to enable them to travel to Malta.

The International Olympic Committee banned the Russian Olympic Federation in 2023 following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and Russian athletes are not allowed to compete in any international event under the Russian flag, including the upcoming Paris Olympics in June.

Nevertheless, the International Olympic Committee reserves the right to decide whether individual neutral athletes with a Russian passport can compete.

It is unknown whether the Maltese Olympic Committee, an affiliate of the International Olympic Committee, was consulted by the Malta Racing Club before organising the races.


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