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Welcome news: sport to resume and limited fans to return when lockdown ends

Outdoor grassroots sport is set to resume and limited numbers of fans will be able to return when lockdown in England ends on Wednesday (2 December).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today (Monday, 23 November) that outdoor sport can resume when England exits lockdown and returns to a strengthened tiered system.

Mr Johnson added spectator sports will be able to resume inside and outside, with capacity limits and social distancing, in tiers one and two. Sport is also set to be permitted, with additional restrictions, in tier three.

He said “by the spring”, the advances in testing and vaccination should reduce the need for the restrictions of 2020 “and make the whole concept of a Covid lockdown redundant”.

Details on the tier system are expected on Thursday (26 November) and as H&H went to press this afternoon, the equestrian world was assessing what the new rules will mean.

British Equestrian (BEF) interim chief executive Iain Graham told H&H the organisation is “hopeful a large proportion of equestrian activity can recommence in England when restrictions are lifted next week, based on what we’ve heard so far”.

“Working with our member bodies and stakeholders, the Covid protocols in place have been robust and enabled us to operate in a safe environment for all and with confidence,” he said, adding the BEF anticipates these will continue to cover sport, recreation and educational activity within the tightened tier system.

“We’ll work with the member bodies and the Government restrictions to ensure we’re ready to come out of lockdown with the clearest guidance possible.”

Point-to-Point Authority chief executive Peter Wright told H&H the sport is “ready and prepared to start again on 6 December, with proven protocols in place to keep everyone safe whatever the external situation”.

“However, we are delighted to hear the recent news, and hopefully this is the first step in a steady progression back to normality for our great sport,” he added.

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Funding and spectators

News that spectators can return in some capacity has been broadly welcomed.

The numbers will depend on the tier and whether the event is indoors or outside. At tier one, these will be 50% capacity or 4,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whichever is lower and at tier two, these will be 50% capacity or 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whichever is lower. No spectators will be allowed at events in tier three.

All equestrian sport has taken place behind closed doors since it was allowed to restart in the spring, with the exception of two racing pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick.

This follows the 19 November announcement that racing had been earmarked for a £40 million loan as part of the £300 million Sport Winter Survival Package, to protect the immediate future of major spectator sports in England.

Racing’s sport executive committee met on Monday to discuss the package, including how to share the responsibility of a loan across the sport – rather than this landing solely on the shoulders of the racecourses. Details surrounding applications are expected this week and it is “likely to take some weeks” before racing comes to an agreement on how to use the money.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust said the announcement regarding spectators is “more good news for racing and for our many millions of fans who have been unable to watch in person the sport they love since March”.

“We know the numbers are limited to begin with and not all venues will be allowed to admit spectators, but this is progress,” he said.

“I am confident that all our racegoers will follow the Government’s public health guidelines when they return to racing and this will allow us to increase the numbers attending. We have always said that racing will act responsibly and we all look forward to getting back on the track.”

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