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Government gives green light for British resumption on Monday

UK horseracing has been given the all-clear to return at Newcastle on Monday with UK culture minister Oliver Dowden declaring on Saturday “the wait is over” for the return of live sport.

Racing was shut down by the BHA on March 18 — less than a week after the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival — when government guidance changed withdrawing support for mass gatherings, while implementing social distancing and restricting all non-essential travel.

However, Britain will join France, Germany, America, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong among others in operating the sport behind closed doors from Monday after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) moved to stage three of its guidance for professional sport, clearing the way for the action to return.

Dowden said: "The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.

"This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors. It's now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it's right for them to restart.

"This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we're creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved."

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Speaking at the Downing Street Covid-19 update, Dowden added:  “It’s up to each individual sport to make the decision exactly when to resume competition — they know their sports best. It’s been a huge challenge to get to this point.

"We’ve taken a forensic, clinician-led approach working with Public Health England and the Department of Health every step along the way. We've had dozens of meetings and published pages of detailed guidance. But by working so closely with the sports themselves we made sure it’s a collaborative collective approach. 

“I know this will be welcome news for many. For a sport-loving nation this really is a significant milestone. We won’t be sitting in the stands for a while, and it’ll be very different to what we’re used to, but the British sporting recovery has begun.”

Hopes racing might be able to return in mid-May were dashed earlier in the month by the government, resulting in a shake up of the fixture list, including pushing back some races and scrapping others.

With Britain also moving into phase two of lifting the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions from Monday, the return of professional sport without spectators can get underway with racing the first major activity to begin ahead of Premier League football's planned return on June 17.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust reacted positively to the news, describing the timing of the resumption as "crucial".

He said: "“This is an important stage towards a complete return for our industry and will help protect livelihoods and businesses. The timing is crucial for the breeding sector and we thank the government and officials at DCMS and Public Health England for their assistance in planning a safe return to racing. There is still a tough battle ahead before we can get fully back in business but this is a resilient and world-leading industry and we are ready for the task.  

“Our plans for returning safely have been developed with the assistance of all the representative bodies in our sport and I believe the public can be reassured by the measures we will have in place. People understand how important it is for industries like ours to get back to work. Our participants know what will be asked of them when they attend a raceday. Together, we’ll stick to social distancing rules and prevent the virus spreading.

“I’m sure the return of racing will be welcomed by all those who’ve missed the excitement of live sport and the majestic sight of racehorses running at full gallop. We hope it will lift the nation’s spirits in difficult times and look forward to seeing our owners and racing fans back at racecourses as soon as that’s possible.”

Significant planning for the resumption of racing has been going on since the sport was stopped after the spectator-free meetings at Wetherby and Taunton on March 17. 

Those attending fixtures after resumption will be subject to strict health and hygiene protocols designed to mitigate against the risk of spreading the virus, which has claimed over 38,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, and prevent any unnecessary burden on the National Health Service (NHS).

The BHA's chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, said: “Our approach to screening and surveillance has been developed following discussions with Public Health England as part of the Chief Medical Officers in Sport Group.

"It is based on the low level of background risks at an outdoor event in a non-contact sport with attendees from mainly rural areas. It is responsible, makes sensible use of medical resources but is flexible so we can adapt in accordance with changing government policy and as our knowledge of Covid-19 increases over time.”

Additionally, restrictions such as reducing the number of fixtures taking place, limiting field sizes and the jockeys who can participate to begin with and prevent overseas runners for all bar the biggest races have been enacted by the BHA. 
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