Christmas is fast approaching, so numerous National Hunt courses will have meetings coming up over the next couple of weeks. The government’s latest convoluted set of rules mean that different sporting events will be allowed different amounts of people to arrive as spectators, depending on which part of the British Isles and Ireland they find themselves in, with England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales & Scotland all differing slightly.
Of course, the fact that people are heading back to live sporting events at all is a good thing. The global pandemic has seen life as we know it virtually grind to a halt, so being able to get back to some degree of normality can only be seen as a good thing. It’s far from ideal, but the return of some people is the first step to all of us being able to get back to watching the sports we love, so we’ll explore the current rules here.
Protocols Already In Place
When all sport had been stopped because of the pandemic, it was horse racing that was the first to resume. The British Horseracing Authority put a number of changes in place in order to ensure that things would be as safe as possible for everyone taking part. Some of these changes, enacted before racing resumed and still in place now, are as follows:
- Handwashing stations at all main transfer points and around the racecourse
- Face coverings worn by all, apart from when eating or drinking
- Mandatory medical screenings put in place, ensuring all people working on the racecourse are safe to be there
- Social Distance Officers posted to ensure that all health and safety measures are adhered to
- Reporting system available to map Covid-19 cases according to postcode and role of person infected
On top of that, spectators are required to provide their personal details for the Test & Trace system, agree that they’ll observe all social distancing guidelines and also not attend the event if they’re displaying any symptoms.
The Rules In England
Being a Cheltenham-specific website, it’s only right that we start by looking at the rules on people returning to racing in England. After the disappointment of numerous big events such as the Grand National being cancelled this year, it’s hardly surprising that horse racing fans are ready to get back into the saddle, so to speak. That is especially true after a number of false starts over the past few months.
There was some false hope when it was suggested that the Goodwood Festival would be used to test the idea of spectators returning to top-level sports, only for that to be cancelled. More than 3,000 people did attend day one of the St Leger Festival at Doncaster, but rising case numbers meant that the other days couldn’t have people in attendance, which was a disappointment to everyone.
The rules that are in place for England depend on whether you’re talking about a Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 location. Tier 3 is easy to explain because no spectators are allowed at any sporting event. When it comes to Tier 1 and Tier 2, however, things are slightly different. Tier 1 regions are allowed to welcome as many as 4,000 spectators outdoors, or 50% of the venue’s capacity, which ever one is lower.
In Tier 2 regions that is cut to 2,000 people or 50% of the venue’s capacity, with the lower figure being key. Regardless of the tier, it’s not allowed for people to mix in groups of more than six unless they’re from the same household or support bubble. The only time that this changes is when it is specifically permitted by the government for test events, at which point the capacity will be decided upon in a case by case basis.
This will remain the case until December the 16th at the earliest, which is the point at which all of the tiers will be reviewed. Cheltenham currently stands in a Tier 2 area, meaning that as many as 2,000 spectators will be allowed into Prestbury Park. The International Meeting is due to take place at the course on the 11th and 12th of the month, allowing people back into the venue for the first time since March.
Here’s a look at some other courses that are hosting meetings this month in England, with the courses hosting them currently in either Tier 1 or Tier 2 areas and therefore able to accept at least 2,000 people in to watch. It’s worth bearing in mind that those due to take place after December the 16th could see their Tier status change and therefore the number of people attending them alter:
- Kempton Park – December 2nd, December 26th & 27th (King George VI Chase)
- Lingfield – December 2nd
- Ludlow – December 2nd
- Haydock – December 2nd & December 30th
- Exeter – December 4th
- Sandown – December 4th (Tingle Creek Chase Day)
- Aintree – December 5th
- Huntingdon – December 6th (Peterborough Chase)
- Plumpton – December 7th
- Chelmsford – December 7th
- Fontwell – December 8th
- Hereford – December 11th
- Wincanton – December 15th
- Catterick – December 15th
- Ascot – December 18th & 19th (Long Walk Hurdle)
- Newbury – December 29th (Challow Hurdle)
- Taunton – December 30th
Those travelling from Tier 1 or Tier 2 areas into other Tier 2 areas will be fine, but anyone from a Tier 3 area travelling into either a Tier 1 or Tier 2 area may well be denied entry to the racecourse. It’s likely that annual members of a course will be offered access to tickets first, then they will go to general sale and must be bought in advance. Any alcohol must be enjoyed with a ‘substantial’ meal.
The other bit of good news is that you’ll be able to place a few bets, given that both Arena Racing Company and Jockey Club racecourses have decided to waive the fee that bookmakers usually have to pay to have a pitch. It is a slight relief to on-course bookies, likely to save them between ‘£80 and £120’, according to on-course bookmaker Ben Johnson.
The Jockey Club is also implementing Zones on its racecourses, which will be colour co-ordinated. People will not be allowed to cross between their Zones, which are defined as follows:
- Zone 1 – Restricted to jockeys, trainers and officials. The likes of the Weighing Room and Parade Ring are in this Zone
- Zone 2 – Owners, sponsors and those with hospitality tickets will be in this Zone. Viewing areas for the likes of the Parade Ring will be here, as will restaurants and Private Boxes
- Zone 3 – Annual Badge Holders and those with General Admission tickets will be in Zone 3
The Rules In Wales
The Welsh government have approached the handling of the Coronavirus situation differently to the English, so the rules for live sporting events are slightly different. For starters, the Welsh implemented what they referred to as a ‘firebreak’, which essentially resulted in the shutting down on the country for 17 days. When the firebreak ended, the government still had rules for people to follow.
These rules include the likes of only leaving your home when you need to, seeing as few people as possible when you do. Working from home as much as possible and maintaining social distancing at all times are also both on the list, as is the regular washing of hands. The Welsh rule on meeting people is also limited to four, rather than six, which is obviously slightly more limited.
The other problem some will have is that travel into Wales ‘is not allowed without a reasonable excuse’. Quite whether going to watch horse racing classes as a reasonable excuse is unclear, but it’s unlikely. Indeed, the Welsh government’s advice on the matter specifically says, “Spectators will continue to be prohibited from attending sporting events.” As a result, it’s unlikely people will be allowed to watch racing any time soon.
The Rules In Scotland
As with Wales, there is a devolved government in Scotland that is setting its own rules around sporting events. The Scottish system involves the use of five Levels, with the rules being different depending on where you are in the country. For those in Level 4, 3 and 2 areas, no sport can be watched in person, though drive-in events are permitted in Level 2 locations where possible.
The Different areas in each Level are as follows:
- East Dunbartonshire
- East Renfrewshire-
- North Lanarkshire
- South Ayrshire
- South Lanarkshire
- West Dunbartonshire
- West Lothian
- North Ayrshire
- Perth & Kinross
- Argyll & Bute
- Dumfries & Galloway
- East Lothian
- Western Isles
There’s also a Level 0, which is described as being ‘nearly normal’, but no parts of Scotland are currently in this Level. For those places in Level 1, sports arenas are able to open with a restricted number of spectators permitted. Given none of the areas in Level 1 are particularly well known for their horse racing, however, it’s essentially the same as saying that spectators are not allowed at horse racing in Scotland.
The Scots are planning to take another look at how things are working on the 11th of December, though it’s unlikely that any significant change will take place as far spectators at horse racing events are concerned.
The Rules In Northern Ireland
The devolved government of Northern Ireland have also introduced their own rules and regulations when it comes to limiting the transmission of the Coronavirus. In Northern Ireland, sport is only allowed to take place at the elite level, regardless of whether it’s indoors or outdoors. The government has also outlined specific rules regarding whether anyone can watch said elite sport, which are as follows:
“Elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors. Elite sporting events must be held behind closed doors without spectators.”
To put it another way, horse racing can take place but nobody will be allowed into the racecourse to watch what is happening. Whether that is likely to change in the future remains unclear at this time, but it’s unlikely.
The Rules In Ireland
Whilst Ireland and Northern Ireland are on the same island, they have different governments controlling how things operate. It’s also worth noting that there is no border between the two countries, so the rules have to be similar because it’s difficult to stop people moving from one part of the island to the other. As a result, racing in Ireland is also being done behind closed doors.
In a statement on their official website, Horse Racing Ireland said that they do not have a date for when spectators will be allowed back into racecourses to watch events taking place. Instead, people interested in racing are being encouraged to be ‘part of the action from home’. It seems, then, as though England is really the only country that is bucking the trend of keeping spectators away from live sports.
The racing has been behind closed doors in Ireland since June, which had put a major financial burden on the 26 racecourses around the country. The Irish are planning to monitor how the return of spectators to grounds in England works out, whilst also hoping that the forthcoming vaccines will be a game-changer. If not, it’s likely that spectators will be unable to return until around March of 2021 at the earliest.
Whilst no specific date is in mind for the return of spectators, the bosses of Ireland’s biggest racecourses are at least putting plans in place to welcome people back through their doors. At the moment, even a Level 1 area can only have a maximum of 500 people, but it is likely to be the case that different areas will be allowed different numbers depending on the size of the racecourse in question. After all, Peter Roe, the manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse, said himself, “Having 5,000 people at Tipperary is very different to 5,000 at Fairyhouse.”