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New guidance outlined as English tracks prepare for capacity crowds

British horseracing has issued new guidance to racegoers as it makes final plans for the safe return of full crowds in England from Monday.

The Government confirmed earlier this week that the fourth step in the Covid roadmap will go ahead from July 19, allowing venues to return to full capacity with no social distancing.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have since announced their own rules, and racegoers are advised to check in advance with racecourses in Scotland and Wales to ensure they understand the variations and differences in key dates.

While English racecourses will no longer have limits on crowds from next week, as legal restrictions come to an end, the public has been asked to observe a number of “requests”.

Those requests include being vaccinated against coronavirus and taking up the Government’s offer of free lateral flow tests, so spectators can “consider taking one before you travel” to a racecourse.

The Government has said it will encourage high-risk venues to use a system of Covid certification – and while British racing will not be introducing such a system at this stage, the British Horseracing Authority and the Racecourse Association are “working with DCMS to develop the detailed operation guidance needed to safely introduce certification”, should it be required.

On behalf of the sport, David Armstrong, chief executive of the RCA, said: “We thank all our racegoers for the responsible behaviour they have shown since they were able to return to racecourses, and we are very excited to welcome back all racegoers from Monday in England and later in August in Wales and Scotland.

“As an outdoors event, people can have confidence in attending a race meeting in safety.

“Nevertheless, we encourage all to continue to follow the recommended advice and in particular to check on any restrictions that are still in place in Scotland and Wales. The safety of our racegoers will always be our top priority.

“We continue to liaise with our colleagues from other major sports and local and national authorities to ensure we are all operating to the highest levels of public safety. That includes planning for a system of Covid certification should that be required.”

The BHA also released updated Covid-19 guidelines and operating procedures for participants, with some “additional infection prevention and control measures” remaining in place in an attempt to “safeguard the industry from the risk of Covid-related disruption”.

The weighing room complex will remain a “strictly controlled area”, with participants entering the weighing room asked to wear face covering and continue to socially distance.

Elsewhere on course, the use of face coverings is recommended, particularly in enclosed and crowded areas.

Like spectators, participants are also encouraged to bolster their protection and reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus by accepting both doses of the vaccine and completing regular lateral flow tests to identify positive cases in advance of raceday.

The BHA’s chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, said: “Racing has demonstrated throughout the pandemic our ability to conduct race meetings safely and sensibly, with participants adapting quickly to new processes and following rigorously the infection control measures in place.

“While the full return of spectators and the further easing of restrictions is welcome, with cases continuing to rise, racing must do what we can to protect our people and industry – especially against the ongoing risk of 10-day self-isolation for close contacts of infected individuals.

“The best way to bolster protection is through vaccination, accompanied by regular lateral flow testing, but we will also retain some measures on course to help protect those participants working in higher-risk indoor areas, particularly the weighing room complex.

“As ever, I want to thank everyone for their adherence to the protocols and continuing to behave responsibly on course. Avoiding disruption to the racing industry must remain our utmost priority – and everyone can play their part in this respect.”

Racecourses boosted by confirmation of July 19 lockdown easing

The return of capacity crowds at British racecourses moved another step closer on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the plan for further easing of lockdown restrictions in England will go ahead on July 19.

Step 4 in the road map includes the lifting of social distancing and removing the obligation to wear face coverings – but the public are still advised to wear them in crowded, indoor spaces “such as public transport”.

The Prime Minister said: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed with caution” and that “the pandemic is not over” but confirmed that the so-called “freedom day” would see the end of most restrictions.

Royal Ascot's crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year
Royal Ascot’s crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year (Steven Paston/PA)

Ascot hosts the first major raceday after restrictions have been lifted with the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes on July 24, while Beverley, Cartmel and Windsor are the tracks in England in action at the beginning of the week.

However, some protocols are expected to remain in place at racecourses to protect the participants.

Racecourse chief executive David Armstrong said: “It is fantastic news that racecourses in England will be able to welcome racegoers without restriction from Monday July 19. The RCA is working closely with the racecourses in England to prepare for full capacities and we will continue to communicate with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

“It has been a difficult time for the racing industry and we estimate that the pandemic has cost racecourses £400m. However, with some of the sport’s most iconic marquee events just around the corner, including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival and Cazoo St Leger Festival, it looks set to be a brilliant summer of racing.”

He went on: “The RCA, alongside Great British Racing, is working to attract racegoers back on course, reminding everyone that racing is a great day out for all. It is also important to remember that racecourses are safe venues to visit. As well as having vast amounts of outdoor space the racecourses, in line with government messaging, will encourage spectators to remain vigilant and use their own judgement while on course to keep everybody comfortable and safe.

“In order to protect racing’s key participants and minimise the risk of self-isolation, it may be necessary for a small number of restrictions to remain in place, but these will be removed as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”

The British Horseracing Authority said in a statement: “It is very pleasing to hear that the planned easing of restrictions which were announced last week have today been confirmed.

“The return of spectators to race meetings in greater numbers in England represents a significant and much needed step along the sport’s plans for recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We await further announcements from the Scottish and Welsh Governments on their Covid regulations later this week.

“The industry is working together to finalise the infection control measures that will be in place to protect the sport’s participants, particularly those working mainly in and around the Weighing Room Complex, which remains a higher-risk area.

“Full details of these plans will be published in the coming days.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

The Prime Minister also said at his Downing Street press conference that now was the right time to lift restrictions due to the “natural firebreak” of the school holidays.

“We also know if we were to now delay this fourth step, for instance to September, or later, then we would be reopening as the weather gets colder and as the virus acquires a greater natural advantage and when schools are back,” he said.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.”

Racegoers to return to tracks in Wales next week

Spectators in Wales will be able to join those in England and Scotland in attending race meetings from next week after the Welsh government announced the public can return to sporting events on Monday.

Racegoers returned to tracks in England and Scotland on May 17, albeit in reduced numbers, and Chepstow’s meeting on June 11 will mark the first occasion Welsh fans can get back on course.

In both England and Wales, a maximum of 4,000 racegoers are permitted – excluding the pilot event at Royal Ascot which allows 12,000 people – while the limits in Scotland vary from track to track, with Ayr having a cap of 250 and up to 1,400 at Hamilton.

Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park
Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park (Tim Goode/PA)

The next stage of the road map out of Covid-19 restrictions is pencilled in for June 21, although it is not expected to confirm until June 14 if it will go ahead, and what guidelines will apply to sporting events in England.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said: “The government said when it published the road map that it wanted Covid restrictions to be lifted from June 21 at the earliest, but it has also said repeatedly that it wants to proceed with caution.

“Racing is pushing hard for the maximum attendance at race meetings from that point and to remove the current rule that has a lower limit for outdoors sports compared to those that take place in stadia with ticketed seating. Our venues have very significant outdoors space, where transmission rates are lower, allowing spectators to be distributed over large areas.

“We may not find out what the guidelines are until a week before this change comes into effect but will be ready to reconfigure racecourses depending on decisions made by national and local authorities, who license each event.”

Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month
Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month (Julian Finney/PA)

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, added: “I’m very positive about the ability of racing to take place safely as we’ve demonstrated throughout the long period of racing behind closed doors. I have been able to make that point directly to ministers and am delighted that Royal Ascot has been selected as a pilot event.

“We are now awaiting the government’s review of social distancing rules, which need to be relaxed if we are to welcome back more spectators from June 21.

“There is a lot of speculation in the media, but the government has told us no decision has yet been made. We are working closely alongside other elite sports to seek clarity from government at the earliest possible moment. There are a number of major sporting events shortly after June 21, such as the Euros, Wimbledon, the Open Golf and the British Grand Prix.

“We thank all those owners and spectators attending racing at present for their patience in bearing with restrictions and look forward to the day when these can be safely removed.”

British racing to receive £21million through sports survival package

Leaders of British racing have welcomed the government announcement that £21million of loan funding will be made available through the sports winter survival package.

The money will be lent to the Levy Board due to its role in providing central funding of industry costs of race-day regulation, equine welfare and industry training, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced.

The funding is to ensure essential race day integrity costs and related health and safety expenditure are safeguarded, enabling the Levy Board to continue their programme of financial support and funding into the industry, which has suffered as a result of Covid-19.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington said: “We are extremely grateful to officials at Sport England, DCMS and the Treasury for their support in agreeing this funding to racing.

“We are grateful also to the Levy Board for agreeing to our proposal and borrowing this money to support the central funding of racing.

“This money will help ensure racing continues behind closed doors despite the absence of spectator revenues. This will benefit our racecourses, our participants and their communities, and the vital role racing plays as an employer and contributor to the rural economy.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, added: “The RCA and its Members are very grateful to the Levy Board, DCMS and Sport England for putting in place this vital funding for the sport.

“Racecourses have suffered lost turnover of over £325m since the pandemic began and this funding will provide a crucial bridge for both racecourses and horsemen as we begin the long road to recovery.”