Plans under way for future competitions, with social distancing *H&H Plus*

  • As the length of the current lockdown remains unknown, some event organisers and sporting governing bodies are planning ahead so they are best placed to get sport up-and-running as quickly as possible when the rules allow. H&H finds out more...

    Discussions are happening on how shows and events might adapt to run once restrictions relating to the coronavirus ease.

    While answers to questions on how long lockdown will continue for – or if it will return once lifted and what social distancing measures will be required in coming weeks and months – remain unknown, cautious planning is under way across the disciplines.

    Little Downham (1) (29-31 May) has not yet cancelled and will be making the final call on 15 May. This is eight days after the current lockdown period is set to end and gives the organisers two weeks to prepare.

    Event organiser, course-designer and landowner Tina Ure told H&H it is important for the industry to look at how it can adapt to a new world, even if the chances of Little Downham going ahead are slim.

    “If I don’t plan for the positive, what do I do?”she said. “We have to plan forwards, we can always change the plans, but you need to have one to start with.

    “There has to be some hope on the horizon to get people to engage again, because the knock-on effects [of no competitions] are huge. A lot of our industry is driven by competition.”

    She gave the example of self-employed coaches, whose income has been affected by the restrictions, and as demand for their expertise is also often driven by competing.

    Provision of medical cover and how the NHS itself is coping are going to be key deciding factors. The event itself would also be behind “closed doors” and heavily modified to ensure social distancing is followed.

    This could include a maximum of 100 to 150 horses per day, compared with up to 300 under normal circumstances, at novice and intermediate level, phone lines between dressage judges and writers, print-at-home numbers, virtual briefings for officials, allocated arrival, departure and warm-up time slots and pay-online start fees.

    Bede Events, which had nine affiliated horse trials and numerous other competitions on its 2020 calendar, is looking at “lots of options” as to how it might restart when the time is right.

    “I am sure it will need to be a staged start, as they gradually ease the restrictions,” Bede said in a message to its volunteers, adding it would run “eventer trials” at Shelford before any horse trials.

    “British Eventing is looking at various options, as there may still be social distancing regulations/recommendations in place. As volunteers, we would need to look at various ways to keep you all safe.”

    Briefings via Zoom and volunteers bringing their own refreshments are among these.

    British Dressage (BD) and British Showjumping (BS) are working closely on a detailed “operational plan”, which they hope to share with members in coming weeks.

    “[The plan] will include three phases: response, resumption and recovery, to detail how we will be managing the short, medium and long-term implications of the crisis for our sport,” BD chief executive Jason Brautigam told H&H.

    “As part of this, there will be a four-stage approach for members: ride, train, compete, qualify, as we appreciate that it may take at least four to six weeks after the lockdown restrictions are lifted before sporting activity may begin again.

    “While it is not possible to predict specific timescales for when these different phases and stages can be implemented yet, we do still want to be ready to resume riding and training as soon as it is safe to do so, even if competitions cannot start until the second half of June or early July.”

    Mr Brautigam added much depends on what social distancing measures remain in place and any limitations on public gatherings.

    “This may include a cap on the number of people on site and additional time required for each competitor in the arena, as well as restrictions on catering and other facilities, such as stabling, parking and toilets,” he said, adding that BD is working with organisers, other stakeholders and BS to understand how these measures could work in practice.

    “For dressage, we have the specific consideration of how social distancing will work for our judges and writers, for example, so this all needs to be thought through carefully.

    “While it is still too early to be prescriptive about what the sport might look like in the weeks and months ahead, rest assured that there’s plenty of work going on behind the scenes in readiness for when we do get the green light from government.”

    Endurance GB has cancelled all rides until mid-June. Chair Phil Nunnerley said: “It is likely some form of restrictions will continue to be in place for the medium term, potentially on a fluctuating basis. This of course makes it very difficult to plan and we will need to be very flexible and reactive.”

    As the situation varies between countries, direct comparisons are arguably not particularly helpful.

    That said, Austria announced on 24 April that equestrian and other sports facilities, including riding schools, could reopen from 1 May as long as appropriate measures were followed. At the time, the country (population 8.86 million) had 15,000 known cases and 530 deaths — compared to the UK (population 66.65 million) which had 612,031 cases and 19,506 deaths by 24 April.

    France Gallop revealed plans on 23 April as to how it intends to restart racing from 11 May.

    The British Horseracing Authority’s resumption of racing group has also put forward ideas as to what modifications could be in place as and when the sport resumes. These include maximum 12-runner fields using experienced jockeys; restricting attendance and extending the Flat season.

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