HRI chief says Cheltenham shou...


HRI chief says Cheltenham should have gone behind closed doors

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The chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland feels that this year’s Cheltenham Festival should have played out behind closed doors.

But Brian Kavanagh told Sport For Business that he has some sympathy with festival organisers.

This year's Cheltenham Festival went ahead without any crowd restrictions from March 10-13.

Calls grew louder throughout the week to close the Prestbury Park gates to race fans, however organisers continued as normal despite growing concerns regarding COVID-19.

Ireland only imposed its restrictions on movement on March 13, the day the festival drew to a close, while the UK were slower to act.

"I went over on Monday and came home on Wednesday night to a whole different world," Kavanagh said.

"In hindsight, it would have been better to have gone behind closed doors but things were still going ahead, there was a Champions’ League game and it was ten days before the pubs were closed here in Ireland.

"Should it have gone ahead? Probably not, but everyone is wise after the event, and the British Government was saying that everything was OK."

Meanwhile, Kavanagh says HRI are "racing ready" to return to action with a week to ten days' notice.

He adds, "Ironically, unlike other sports... a race course when you strip out the public, when you strip out the bookmakers, when you strip out all of the public-facing aspects, they're actually ideally suited to social distancing.

"You can run racing, and respect the requirements of social distancing."

Kavanagh points out that HRI staged ten meetings behind closed doors before the lockdown.

Racing in Germany is due to resume behind closed doors on Monday May 4, with France back underway on May 11.

Kavanagh feels a return behind closed doors in Ireland could have multiple benefits, adding, "They're not race meetings as we know it.

"But it does fulfil the requirement that you're getting these horses run, you're getting a bit of prize money out into the system, you're getting people earning a living again."

Kavanagh says a resumption can be an example of how a sector adapts to survive while saying they will adhere to government guidelines.

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