Horse Racing in Britain Goes Spectator-Free Over COVID-19

  • BHA says scheduled meetings will take place behind closed doors, limited number of attendees
  • Some events to continue as planned, others may be canceled depending on virus traction
  • Restrictions will remain in place at least through end of March
  • Aim is to create balance between public health protection and continued business activity
racecourse track with wooden grandstand
The British Horseracing Authority has banned fans from racetracks in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update: The British Horseracing Authority has confirmed it will suspend all horse racing events until the end of April.

Horses to race behind closed doors

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) decided this week that horse racing in Britain will now take place behind closed doors. Fears over the aggressive spread of the coronavirus have led to spectator-free racing, at least until the end of this month.

spectator-free racing, at least until the end of this month

Horse racing has continued to take place in England despite the virus. The Cheltenham Festival ran last week with a record attendance of more than 251,000 people within a four-day time frame. For now, scheduled meetings should continue, but these will be minus the crowd of fans.

No spectators allowed

According to the BHA, some events will continue as planned while others may be canceled. The Grand National is supposed to take place on April 4. Any updates to the meeting will be provided once they are decided on by the group in consultation with the government.

The first meetings affected by the no spectator rule will be Taunton and Wetherby. On top of the meets being fan-free, restrictions are in place on how many people can be in attendance.

A BHA statement read: “Any fixtures that take place in England, Wales and Scotland, initially until the end of March, will take place without spectators and with restrictions on the number of attendees.”

In Scotland, races have already been held without spectators. This came after the government issued a statement that gatherings of 500 people or more should not take place.

Protecting public health and businesses

According to BHA chief executive Nick Rust, the restrictions were decided on as a way to limit attendees so that demand for public services would be lessened. Measures are also in place regarding the government’s public health guidance. As changes are made, the horse racing industry will adapt.

a balance between public health protection and continued business activity

Rust also commented that the BHA recognizes that the restrictions will impact businesses, including hotels and restaurants. He pointed out that the BHA is following the advice of the government to create a balance between public health protection and continued business activity.

Irish politicians against Cheltenham racegoers

The announcement by the BHA comes not long after politicians in Ireland spoke out against those who attended the Cheltenham Racing Festival in the UK last week. Thousands of racing fans from Ireland head to the event each year.

Irish MEP Luke Flanagan tweeted that festival attendees were “gambling with our lives.” Irish Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy also chimed in, saying that going ahead with the race and having a big crowd in a confined space was “highly risky.”

While many events in several nations have been canceled due to the COVID-19 virus, efforts to stop the Cheltenham Festival fell through. The opening day saw over 60,000 racegoers in attendance.