England is on course to remove the COVID-19 enforced limit of attendees at sporting events from July 19, according to an announcement from the UK Government. A final decision on easing restrictions, which currently limits attendance to just 4,000 spectators at each race meeting, will be made on July 12. During Royal Ascot, up to 12,000 were allowed to attend through a Government pilot scheme. In addition to ending spectator limits, the one-metre social distancing rule will end, as will the compulsory wearing of masks.
“If we do find another variant that doesn't respond to the vaccines, if heaven forbid some really awful new bug should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a press conference in Downing Street on Monday evening. “But on balance, given the massive success of the vaccine rollout, given the fact that this is a propitious moment, a good moment to do it given the coming summer holidays, the natural firebreak we have there, and given the difficulty of then imagining us opening up in the context of the colder autumn/winter months, I think this is a balanced and cautious approach.”
The Prime Minister's announcement affects only English racecourses, with both Scotland and Wales under their own specific lockdowns restrictions. Both the British Horseracing Authority and Racecourse Association welcomed the news.
“We are delighted to hear the Prime Minister's announcement today,” said BHA Chair Annamarie Phelps in a statement. “Monday 19th July will be a significant day for all sports, and very much so for British racing. This news comes as a huge boost to an industry which relies so heavily on its nearly six million racegoing fans each year. A day at the races with the wonderful atmosphere generated by our racegoers is an experience unlike any other. Everyone involved in our sport has been looking forward to this news for the last 13 months, and worked tirelessly and with great patience to safely keep the show on the road in this time.
“While racing is perfectly suited to spectators enjoying a sporting experience in a safe environment, it may remain the case that some protocols around the operation of sporting events for participants and officials remain in place in order to protect sports from the potential impact of positive cases and close contact self-isolation requirements, and permit international competitors. We are currently working with our industry colleagues to consider how this might apply to racing and how our racedays will therefore operate from 19 July onwards, and we await further clarity from Government. We also look forward to spectators being permitted to return to sporting events in Scotland and Wales in greater numbers in due course, and continue to engage proactively with the Devolved Administrations on this issue.”
RCA chief executive David Armstrong added, “It has been 476 days since British racecourses were able to welcome racegoers without restriction. Clearly this has been a difficult time for racecourses on both a commercial level, we estimate the pandemic has cost racecourses £400 million, and human level–we have deeply missed the atmosphere and presence of racegoers.
“The clarity provided by today's Government announcement is wonderful news for racecourses in England and we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.
“With some of the sport's marquee events to come including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, York's Ebor Festival and the Cazoo St Leger Festival at Doncaster, our attention now turns to helping racecourses prepare for a fantastic summer.
“Certain restrictions may remain in place to protect racing's participants, but we will work closely with our partners across the sport to remove these as quickly as is possible whilst maintaining their safety.”