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Horse sport to lead the way in pilot for return of spectators

Hopes are alive for crowds to return to horse sport as Goodwood pilots a trial to allow limited numbers and point-to-pointing looks at novel options.

The Qatar Goodwood Festival (28 July to 1 August) has been earmarked as one of the first events since lockdown to allow spectators as part of a Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) trial.

The general public, with priority given to Goodwood’s annual members and their guests, will be allowed in on the final day of the festival (1 August), with a maximum crowd of 5,000 plus participants.

Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong, who is also chairman of the organisation’s welcoming crowds industry group, said he welcomes racing’s being chosen as one of the pilot events and “acknowledges the great responsibility on us”.

“The safety protocols involved will be stringent and the Goodwood racecourse team are in a fantastic place to implement them,” said Mr Armstrong.

“The sport has come together to offer support to ensure the pilot event provides us with sufficient learnings that others may follow in time. These learnings will allow us to draft industry-wide protocols fir the wider scale return of crowds as soon as we are able.

“Crowds bring a wonderful atmosphere to a raceday and many businesses associated with racecourses are reliant upon them. I sincerely hope that all involved enjoy their day— our focus now turns to supporting the Goodwood team in what is a landmark day for the sport.”

The day will be a pilot to implement new safety protocols developed by the DCMS, the Sports Ground Safety Authority and the racing industry, which will work with local authorities “to ensure that the event carries minimal risk to attendees and the local community”.

All racegoers must agree to follow the code of conduct, which will be set out in advance and covers behaviour, social distancing and hygiene.

A statement from the West Sussex racecourse added: “The sport recognises the continued support of racehorse owners through this extremely challenging period and as part of the pilot, new initiatives which may increase the number of owners on course and increase the level of hospitality offered will be trialled.”

Adam Waterworth, sport managing director at the Goodwood Estate, said the venues is “delighted” the festival has been chosen as a test event.

“It marks an important day for the sports industry following a few challenging months,” he said.

“Our annual members have continued to support us throughout, for which we are enormously grateful. It is therefore fantastic to offer them the opportunity to witness racing on the downs again.

“The Goodwood team will ensure the racecourse adheres to government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene. We hope that this will be the next step in ensuring crowds for future sporting events.”

Point-to-pointing is hopeful that fixtures will be able to go ahead with spectators for the 2020/21 season, but has contingency plans in place if needed.

The Point-to-Point Authority (PPA) board gave the green light for an early start to the season following support from owners and trainers, with the first fixtures scheduled for the 24-25 October weekend. These will be the East Devon at Bishops Court and the Ledbury at Maisemore.

While there are hopes for crowds to be allowed in, the PPA has mooted the idea of running “behind closed car doors” as an option if needs be.

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Protocols have been written for fixtures to run at four levels, with level one being pointing as normal to level four being behind closed doors.

“Each level provides some common sense restrictions, which I feel all can comply with easily enough while providing reassurance to those who have reason to be more concerned,” said PPA chief executive Peter Wright.

“The advantage of such a system is that it allows flexibility through the season and across the country, allowing fixtures to plan relatively easily. However, at the end of the day, it will come down to individual responsibility and common sense to ensure they take the necessary precautions just as we are already discovering in everyday life.

“Of course we do not want to run behind closed doors, and we certainly hope we do not have to. However, we are very aware that owners and trainers need some sort of guarantee that racing will go ahead, and equally fixtures have to have some sort of guarantee that it would be financially viable.

“In such an event we would aim to keep going a reduced programme across the country providing some extra funds for those fixtures which go ahead. I should add that pointing behind closed doors would not necessarily preclude owners, and indeed it may be possible to have some of the general public attending ‘behind closed car doors’ as a social amenity to those who are otherwise having to screen.”

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