Pub landlord claims competitive eating contest didn’t defy lockdown


A pub landlord has been slammed for hosting a competitive eating contest during lockdown and claiming he wasn’t breaking the rules because it’s an ‘elite sport’.

Craig Harker, 33, received a call from the council after complaints were made over an eating competition that was held at The George Pub and Grill in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, on Saturday.

The event was in conjunction with the British Eating League but a complaint was lodged after concerns it was in breach of lockdown rules.   

However Mr Harker, who runs the pub, hit back at those that complained and insists no rules were broken.

Government guidelines state that hospitality venues such as restaurants and pubs must close, with the exception of providing food and drink for takeaway.

Craig Harker (pictured), 33, received a call from the council after complaints were made over an eating competition that was held at The George Pub and Grill in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, on Saturday

But venues are permitted to be open for a small number of exempt activities, including for elite sportsmen and women to train and compete.

Mr Harker says he adhered to the guidelines as he classes competitive eating as an elite sport.

He told Teesside Live: ‘On Saturday we ran a British Eating League event from the pub during the national lockdown.

‘The venue was closed to the public and only the TV production crew and athletes were allowed on the premises.

‘The Government guidelines state that elite sports can continue during lockdown and there is no higher league in competitive eating than the British Eating League.

The event was in conjunction with the British Eating League but a complaint was lodged after concerns it was in breach of lockdown rules. Pictured: A competitor

Pictured: A competitor

The event was in conjunction with the British Eating League but a complaint was lodged after concerns it was in breach of lockdown rules. Pictured: Competitors

‘Food Sports TV also ran the production side and as Government guidelines state all TV production can continue.

‘A covid risk assessment was carried out and advice was given from UKCEO and CEGA who are the UK’s Governing body of competitive eating.’

In a video posted on his Facebook page shortly after receiving a call from the council on Monday, Mr Harker said he would not ‘be bullied’ into ‘not doing events’.

He said: ‘We were watched by five million people last month, how many sports are not seen by that many?

‘We are entertaining, and we are entertaining everyone during lockdown and we’ll continue to do that.

However Mr Harker, who runs the pub, hit back at those that complained and insists no rules were broken

However Mr Harker, who runs the pub, hit back at those that complained and insists no rules were broken

‘So I won’t be bullied into not doing events, I don’t really appreciate phone calls to question it, and question whether it’s a sport when that’s a matter of opinion.

‘Other people’s opinions aren’t relevant, it’s entertaining, it’s safe and as long as the Government guidelines state what we can do, we will do it.’

Despite inquiries being made, the council confirmed that no further action would be taken against the pub.

Why the landlord DIDN’T break lockdown rules 

Craig Harker’s pub, The George Pub, was used as a set for a filmed eating competition. 

Venues are permitted to open for a small number of activities, including for elite sportsmen to train and compete.   

Mr Harker says he adhered to the guidelines as he classes competitive eating as an elite sport.

He told Teesside Live: ‘On Saturday we ran a British Eating League event from the pub during the national lockdown.

‘The venue was closed to the public and only the TV production crew and athletes were allowed on the premises.

‘The Government guidelines state that elite sports can continue during lockdown and there is no higher league in competitive eating than the British Eating League.’

Mr Harker didn’t sell any food or drink during the competition so therefore didn’t break any lockdown rules stating that pubs and restaurants aren’t allowed to sell products.   

A Stockton Council spokesperson said: ‘A complaint was received by our licensing team regarding the supply of food on the premises, which is currently restricted by national lockdown arrangements.

‘Officers made inquiries and quickly established that no licensable activity took place on the premises at this time, and so no further licensing action will be taken.’  

A Stockton Council spokesperson said: ‘A complaint was received by our licensing team regarding the supply of food on the premises, which is currently restricted by national lockdown arrangements.

‘Officers made inquiries and quickly established that no licensable activity took place on the premises at this time, and so no further licensing action will be taken.’

Mr Harker is no stranger to controversy, and even dressed up as Hitler three years ago in a marketing stunt.  

And more recently, in June, he posted a brutally honest job advertisement in the hope of hiring new employees.

In the advert, possible applicants were warned that they would be working for an ‘a*** ****’.’

In 2017 he came under fire for a provocative social media post which used Nazi imagery.

Mr Harker said controversial posts promoting The Buck Inn, in Sadberge, County Durham, were ‘tongue in cheek, a bit of fun’ and that he would continue to market ‘in the way we do’ as long as people kept visiting his pubs.

It is not the first time the 30-year-old has been criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), following a complaint regarding an advert for another of his venues which asked customers ‘would you punch your ex in the face for a parmo’ was upheld last year. 

In September, his controversial Facebook post for a ‘German Grub Night’ featured the phrases ‘Graham Ze Chef’, ‘Don’t Mention Ze War’ and also showed a black and white cartoon soldier wearing a swastika and performing a Nazi salute, the ASA ruled.

The Buck Inn defended the post, claiming it was a quote from hit TV series Fawlty Towers and was intended to be ‘light hearted and humorous’ – and not promoting the Nazi party’ or mocking the history of the war in any way.

Harker told the Gazette: ‘It was all tongue in cheek, a bit of fun – these are things I grew up watching, things like ‘Allo ‘Allo.

‘They asked me why I liked comments left by people about it, but we like all comments on the page.

‘The night was a massive success, everyone was dressed up like Oktoberfest. 

‘On the night, I dressed up as Hitler. The locals loved it.

‘The Bratwurst curry went down really well, everyone loved the German food.’ 

His pub’s social media post advertising a parmo night also angered domestic violence groups last year.

Harker added: ‘I wasn’t surprised there were complaints, it always upsets someone when we do a bit of marketing.

‘Hundreds of thousands of people saw [the Buck Inn] post, and there were three complaints. 

‘The [George] post was seen by 6.5 MILLION – and we only got one complaint.

‘Both pubs are doing well.

‘As long as people keep coming here, we will keep marketing in the way we do.’

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