With the Cheltenham Festival due to start next week, the racing industry and racegoers alike may be comforted by the Government’s reassurances earlier this week that there are no immediate plans to cancel large-scale sporting events. British Racing has responded to the recent statements of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Health & Social Care Matt Hancock by saying that “British Racing is in close communication with the UK Government about current public health matters in the UK. Based on this, the Cheltenham Festival should go ahead as planned from Tuesday 10th March to Friday 13th March.
Boris Johnson introduced the Government’s action plan on Tuesday that identifies different phases in governmental response to the crisis which has infected 90 UK citizens to date. At present, the country is assessed to be in the containment phase but the Government acknowledges that it is only a matter of time until this phase is judged to be over and the Government, National Health Service and other organisations must move up a gear to activate the delay phase when measures are introduced to delay the transmission of the virus. This phase may well include restrictions on public gatherings, such as sports events, for up to 12 weeks.
There are active markets on betting exchanges regarding the potential for the Cheltenham Festival to be continued or cancelled and the event is currently odds-on to proceed – at odds of 1.37 – with over £2.4 million matched on the market.
However, even if the Cheltenham Festival takes place as planned next week, the forward racing calendar remains under threat. Forthcoming major racing meetings include Aintree (April 2-4), Fairyhouse (April 11-13), Ayr (April 17-18), Sandown (April 25) and Punchestown (April 28 – May 2). The nation’s favourite race, the Grand National, on 4 April at Aintree is in jeopardy and the markets on betting exchanges confirm this with odds of 2.58 for the meeting to take place.
If the Government, under the advice of the Chief Medical Officers, does decide to place restrictions on attendance at sporting events, the general public is well aware that the Government will be following the precedents set by other nations which are experiencing a more significant rate of virus transmission than the UK at present.
The Italian football season is in disarray with Series A matches postponed until at least 3 April. Rugby’s Six Nations tournament is also adversely affected with the matches against Ireland and England currently postponed.