How Will Racecourses Ensure Safe Return Of Spectators?

race crowds at cheltenham racecourse

There’s been plenty of disappointment for horse racing fans this year, all of whom are desperate to return to racecourses as soon as possible.

Perhaps the greatest blow this year was the announcement that the Qatar Goodwood Festival would no longer be a pilot event to stress test the phased safe return of spectators to elite sporting venues.

At the time, the news was a significant step forward for British horseracing, signifying the beginning of the road to economic recovery amid COVID-19. The announcement was an equally important moment for spectators, as the prospect of returning to racecourses to witness their beloved sport in action was on the verge of becoming a reality.

Whilst ongoing COVID-19 concerns are still preventing racegoers from returning to racecourses, many will be anticipating what health and safety protocols racecourses will put in place with the pandemic remaining an ongoing issue. Boris Johnson has confirmed that the safe return of spectators must be done in a ‘COVID-secure’ way but what exactly would this entail?

Here we provide details of the health and safety protocols racecourses have already put in place following COVID-19 and the future for British horse racing.

When will racecourses reopen?

It is currently unknown as to when UK racecourses will fully reopen. Initially, it was anticipated that spectators could return to elite sporting venues from 1st October 2020, however, the government abandoned this target in September as COVID-19 cases continued to rise.

There were due to be several pilot events to kickstart the phased safe return of spectators to elite sporting venues. If these pilot events proved successful, the UK would have seen the return of crowds in October as planned.

Although racegoers were eventually denied the opportunity to attend the Qatar Goodwood Festival on 1st August, over 3,000 people were able to attend the first day of The St Leger Festival at Doncaster Racecourse. Sadly, spectators were only permitted for one day due to rising COVID-19 concerns.

BHA Chief, Nick Rust, is hopeful that racegoers will be able to return to racecourses in 2021, highlighting the financial risks and the possibility that some racecourses could be closed down if this is not the case.

What safety protocols have racecourses implemented so far?

Horse racing was one of the first sports to resume behind closed doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, significant health and safety changes have been implemented across the industry.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) website includes an in-depth analysis of all health and safety changes implemented following the resumption of racing since COVID-19. Some of these health and safety protocols include:

  • Mandatory medical screenings to ensure that everyone who is on a racecourse is safe to be on the racecourse.
  • Handwashing stations around the racecourse and all the main transfer points.
  • A reporting system to permit racing industry members to report proven COVID-19 cases to allow mapping of infection by postcode and role.
  • Face coverings to be worn by racecourse personnel.
  • Social Distancing Officers in place to ensure health and safety measures are adhered to on race days.

For a full breakdown of racecourse COVID-19 health and safety protocols and guidelines, please refer to the BHA website.

How will racecourse health and safety protocols evolve for the safe return of spectators?

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, assured that “the safety protocols involved will be stringent and the Goodwood Racecourse team are in a fantastic place to implement them.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have drafted health and safety guidance entitled Elite Sport – Return to Competition: Safe Return of Spectators. The draft outlines three health and safety assessments which should be considered and followed by both spectators and competition venues to measure if a safe ‘COVID-19-secure’ return is possible.

Spectators should declare to the appropriate venue that they will:

  • Not attend an event if they display any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Agree to observe social distancing guidelines.
  • Provide personal details to assist with NHS test and trace requirements.

Competition delivery partners must communicate with the local authority before each competition to understand:

  • The prevailing risk environment.
  • Assess if the competition can be hosted in line with health and safety guidelines.

The competition venue operator must assess:

  • Ability to reduce entry capacity.
  • Ability to maintain social distancing between individuals.
  • Ability to facilitate social distancing inside all areas and zones.
  • The revised exit capacity.

Competition venue operators also need to consider:

  • The number of passengers on public transport, travelling to and from the venue.
  • The size, location and design of the venue.
  • The likelihood of public gatherings outside the venue.

There will be enhanced hygiene and revised operational measures at venues. Some of these actions include:

  • Additional hand sanitiser stations
  • Toilets cleaned more frequently
  • One-way systems
  • Additional waste facilities
  • Screens and barriers to separate people where necessary
  • Contactless cash operations
  • Removal of all buffet catering services
  • Signage confirming the maximum capacity in any spectator areas
  • Additional entry and exit points to reduce congestion and queuing

Once pilot events are able to resume, the government will assess if these enhanced health and safety measures are enough to provide a thoroughly safe COVID-secure return for spectators.

Attending racecourses and sporting events as a whole will undoubtedly provide a very different experience following the coronavirus pandemic. The gradual safe return of spectators, however, is undeniably a huge step in the right direction for the sporting and hospitality industry.

Eventmasters look forward to welcoming clients back to some of the UK’s biggest horse racing meetings in 2021. We are now taking bookings for The Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood. We can’t wait to hear the sound of roaring crowds and relish the electric racecourse atmospheres once again.

Thinking of attending an event in 2021? Let us know!