Boris Johnson gives go-ahead for return of limited crowds

Spectators are set to return to sports venues – including racecourses – next week as coronavirus restrictions are eased in areas with lower infection rates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that outdoor and indoor venues in tier 1 and 2 areas would be allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis after the end of the national lockdown on December 2, but did not confirm what the capacity limits or percentages would be.

It has been reported that 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – would be in place in tier 1, dropping to 2,000 or 50 per cent for indoor venues.

In tier 2, it has been reported it would be 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, or 50 per cent capacity.

Racing has taken place behind closed doors since its resumption in June, with the exception of two small pilot events at Warwick and Doncaster.

Johnson also said outdoor grassroots sports and indoor sports facilities like gyms would be able to reopen.

A limited crowd attended the first day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster
A limited crowd attended the first day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster (David Davies/PA)

Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons: “Spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing, providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls.”

Spectators had been due to be allowed to return to stadiums from October 1 but the Government pressed pause on that decision due to a rise in infections nationwide.

Last Thursday the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced a £300million ‘Winter Survival Package’ of loans and grants to sports which are facing financial losses as a result of the absence of fans from stadiums, with up to £40m available to racing.

A joint-statement issued on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and The Horsemen’s Group welcomed the latest developments, adding: “The change to restrictions announced by the Prime Minister will now be considered by racecourses and the BHA’s medical team.

“Further engagement will also be required with local public health officials. We thank ministers and officials at DCMS for their support which was crucial to today’s announcement, and all those involved across government and in Parliament.

“The details of the government’s new approach to tiering are not due to be announced until later in the week. Until this has been published and individual racecourses are made aware of the restrictions in their area, it will not be possible to confirm which venues will be admitting spectators.

“We continue to encourage the UK government to allow betting shops to reopen in all areas as part of the change to restrictions.”

BHA chief executive Nick Rust: This is more good news for racing
BHA chief executive Nick Rust: This is more good news for racing (Victoria Jones/PA)

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “This is more good news for racing and for our many millions of fans who have been unable to watch in person the sport they love since March.

“We know the numbers are limited to begin with and not all venues will be allowed to admit spectators, but this is progress. I am confident that all our racegoers will follow the government’s public health guidelines when they return to racing and this will allow us to increase the numbers attending.

“We have always said that racing will act responsibly and we all look forward to getting back on the track.”

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: “Following on from last week’s announcement of financial support, this is a very welcome development for racecourses across England. Even with limited numbers, racecourses can start to reopen facilities for racegoers, hospitality guests and owners.

“Work continues to prepare for larger-scale pilots across the sports sector and racing will continue to play a key role in this vital recovery phase.”

Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said on behalf of The Horsemen’s Group: “This is welcome news and a further step forward for racing after a challenging period for the sport.

“I am grateful to all those across the industry and government who have worked hard to get us to this position and look forward to constructive conversations on owner attendance at racecourses. Owners and other participants have played a vital role in ensuring racing could continue behind closed doors and under tight restrictions.

“Their support continues to be valued enormously and I very much hope all owners will be able to be back on course soon.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said last week there was “definitely a chance” of some venues being able to reopen on a limited basis by Christmas in the areas with the lowest infection rates.

He later confirmed the detail around spectators returning in a tweet that said: “Sports fans back in stadia from 2nd Dec 4K or 50% of capacity in Tier 1, 2K or 50% of capacity in Tier 2.

“A big step forward for fans as we work towards fuller capacities.

“Thanks to pilot hosts & fans for showing this can be done safely.”

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