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Horse sport spectator pilot postponed following government announcement

Hopes of spectators being allowed back to watch racing for the first time since lockdown began have been dashed after a government announcement today (31 July).

The Qatar Goodwood Festival (28 July-1 August) had been earmarked as one of the first events to allow the return of racegoers as part of a Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) trial, and a maximum crowd of 5,000 had been planned on the final day of the meeting (1 August).

However, the government informed the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today that it has withdrawn permission for the pilot event to take place. The racing on Saturday (1 August) will continue behind closed doors as it has done during the festival so far.

A joint statement from the BHA, the Racecourse Association (RCA) and Goodwood racecourse said: “The prime minister is setting out the rationale for the government’s decision but we understand that concern about the national infection rate is the primary reason.

“Goodwood racecourse and the RCA have been leading work on the pilot event, with the safety of members and all those attending as the most important priority. Government and public health officials – national and local – have been briefed throughout on the plans and had approved the approach being taken. We are clear that the decision to cancel is not a consequence of any concerns about these plans or the measures taken by Goodwood to keep attendees safe but relates to the changing national situation.”

It continued: “We are very disappointed for those who were hoping to attend tomorrow’s event and for all those who have worked so hard to make it possible for spectators to be present. We will engage with public health authorities and DCMS over a rescheduled pilot at the earliest opportunity.”

RCA chief executive David Armstrong highlighted the importance of public safety.

“We understand and respect the issues raised within the prime minister’s announcement and have always maintained that public health has been paramount to any event, be it racing resuming behind closed doors or with crowds.

“The work undertaken by the sport and especially the Goodwood team to bring the safety protocols to life has been very thorough and detailed. The RCA will continue to work closely with the Government to plan future pilot events to welcome back crowds subject to the latest public health advice.”

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