The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has given the green light for professional sports in England to resume from today (1 June), with the first horse racing meeting since mid-March to take place at Newcastle this afternoon.
All domestic sports leagues and competitions have been cancelled or postponed since the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, though many events were put on hold before the government implemented its measures to combat the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
In recent weeks, a number of major UK sporting organisations set out plans to resume activities when permitted by the government. Football’s Premier League last week said it intended to restart on 17 June, while the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) published a revised fixture list starting from 1 June.
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden yesterday confirmed that professional sports can now resume, albeit under significant restrictions, with all events to take place behind closed doors.
Among the other measures are regular testing for anyone involved with events, social distancing where possible, a one-way system for the movement of people and vehicles at venues, as well as competitions and organisations appointing a Covid-19 officer to oversee these measures.
“This is a significant moment for British sport,” Dowden said. “By working with clinicians every step of the way, we are creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved.
“This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors. It is now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it’s right for them to restart.”
Racing will restart from this afternoon, with Newcastle Recourse to host a 10-race meeting from 13:00pm British Summer Time. Newcastle will stage another meeting tomorrow, while Kempton Park will also host its first meeting since before lockdown.
The BHA praised the government for allowing sport to resume, saying that the return of racing will save livelihoods and businesses across the industry. Races will be run in line with new guidelines, developed by BHA chief medical adviser Dr Jerry Hill with Public Health England and medical officers from other sports.
“This is an important stage towards a complete return for our industry and will help protect livelihoods and businesses,” said BHA chief executive Nick Rust.
“The timing is crucial for the breeding sector and we thank the government and officials at DCMS and Public Health England for their assistance in planning a safe return to racing. There is still a tough battle ahead before we can get fully back in business but this is a resilient and world-leading industry and we are ready for the task.”
The Jockey Club, the governing body of horse racing in the UK, also welcomed the government’s clearance, with chief executive Delia Bushell saying that resuming racing is vital for many livelihoods.
Bushell said: “The lockdown has been an incredibly hard period for our industry and it will be a long road back to recovery. Across British Racing, a huge amount of planning, effort and care has gone into ensuring we are ready to resume fixtures in the most responsible way.
“While we are not a human-contact sport, extensive plans are nevertheless in place to create the safest possible environment for participants. And as our horses have been kept exercised for their welfare throughout the suspension period, we’re able to resume quickly.”