UK Horse Racing Could Welcome Back Spectators in COVID-19 Research Program

Posted on: May 10, 2021, 12:27h. 

Last updated on: May 10, 2021, 03:30h.

UK horse racing might soon be able to welcome back racegoers, as the country experiments with the reintroduction of crowds to sports events.

UK horse racing
As crazy as this now seems, 125,000 people gathered for the Cheltenham Festival, which took place in March 2020, just ten days before the UK went into full lockdown. (Image: BBC)

Last week, a capacity crowd of 1,000 people attended the final of the World Snooker Championship, an indoor event. This was part of the government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which aims to examine the risk of COVID-19 transmission from attending sports events and concerts.

England and Scotland are two of the host nations of the Euro 2020 international soccer championships, which begins in June after being postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

Organizer UEFA has insisted there must be live spectators in stadiums. Ireland was dropped as a host nation because it was unable to guarantee it could allow fans back into stadiums.

First Crowds Next Month

Around 15 “pilot events” have been selected for the ERP program, including last week’s snooker final, which will allow scientific researchers to “explore how a combination of testing and non-pharmaceutical interventions can inform decisions on safely lifting restrictions at events.”

On Monday, David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, told The Racing Post that his organization was in discussions with the ERP about becoming part of the program.

Royal Ascot, which runs from June 15 to 19, could be used as the first test venue for racing. The event is traditionally attended by the Queen, but it’s currently unclear whether Her Majesty will be part of the experiment.   

The government has said most attendees who attend the ERP events will be local to the venue. Ascot racecourse is six miles from Windsor Castle, a royal residence, so she should at least qualify.

Meanwhile, all attendees at pilot events will be subject to “scientifically and ethically designed pre- and post-event monitoring,” which they will agree to when signing up to attend the event, according to a UK government website.

They must also complete a consent form as part of the sign-up process because of the potentially increased risk of COVID 19 transmission.

Cheltenham Flap

The last major racing event to be attended by spectators was, controversially, the Cheltenham Festival. Running from March 10 to 13, 2020, it attracted 125,000 racegoers to the town of Cheltenham in the west of England. Later, it was blamed for accelerating the spread of COVID-19 in the UK.

Just three days after Cheltenham, modeling from Imperial College London shone new light on the seriousness of what would soon be labeled a pandemic.

Ten days later, on Match 23, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson initiated the country’s first full lockdown.