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It’s this way or no way – and it won’t be for everyone: why riders need perspective on socially distanced sport

Opinion

Checking Facebook yesterday afternoon, I was stopped in my tracks by two posts.

The first was that a friend’s father is in hospital with pneumonia and confirmed Covid-19.

The second was about the recently released British Eventing (BE) model for resumption of sport (linked from the CEO update here), with nearly 200 comments as people reacted.

Scrolling through these opinions, particularly in the context of the first post I had seen, I felt some riders needed a little more perspective.

I fully understand that these new guidelines mean not everyone will be able to compete. Some people may have several children and no childcare, so if they can only take one person to an event, it’s not viable for them to leave the other children home alone.

Others may have a dog and no one who can look after it (and although many dogs are well behaved, I’m afraid I support and understand the no dogs rule: dogs get loose, dogs fight, dogs visit other people’s lorries to steal sandwiches if given the chance – and all those things would put social distancing in jeopardy).

And some people will be unable to take part because of Coronavirus-related factors beyond the actual competition – a locked-down livery yard, their horse being in the care of an older relative who they don’t want to put at risk by visiting, strained finances due to less work, losing a job or furloughing. At this time – and even in normal times – plenty of people have personal circumstances that mean they cannot go eventing.

Others won’t want to compete in these conditions. The joy for them is a big family day out, the opportunity to meet friends, to have a picnic, to enjoy a natter round the scoreboard while munching a burger, to pick up their rosette at prize-giving. Their enjoyment would be diminished to the point where eventing would be pointless.

I feel that people need to grasp that it’s not a case of this way or the old way. For now, it’s this way or no way. More detail is needed in some areas – I’d like, for example, to see a clarification that you can volunteer at a different event to the one you compete at, to make that potential requirement easier to fulfil – but BE has done a good job in putting together a set of parameters that lay out the framework for socially distanced competition.

The key point is that with these guidelines, some people may be able to go eventing in the not-too-distant future and may want to do so. Not everyone – some people. And that would be wonderful for those people. It would allow professional riders to compete again, to give more back to sponsors and owners, making their businesses more viable. It would up the demand for competition feed and kit, supporting those areas of the horse economy, and for facility hire as people need to train to compete. It would provide some amateur riders with a chance to experience the utter exhilaration of a clear cross-country round.

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Just because some people will not be able to event under these circumstances – or won’t want to – doesn’t mean everyone should be denied the chance to take part. The rest of us will have to wait patiently for whatever miracle will take us out of this situation – a vaccine, an effective treatment for Covid-19 or something else. But in the meantime, I say well done BE and good luck to those who are able to crack on.

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