April 29, 2020 / 3:41 PM / a month ago

Horse racing: Cheltenham should not have taken place, says Racing Ireland CEO

(Reuters) - The Cheltenham horse racing festival should probably not have been allowed to go ahead last month shortly before Britain went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh has said.

Around 60,000 spectators on average attended each day of the four-day festival from March 10-13. Three days later Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked people to stop frequenting public places and the country was then locked down on March 23.

The UK government defended its decision to allow sporting events to go ahead at the time, including the Liverpool-Atletico Madrid Champions League game at Anfield, but Kavanagh said it might have been better if Cheltenham was held without fans or not at all.

"It was unfortunate because it was the last major sporting event to take place (in Britain)," he said in an interview on the Sport for Business here website on Wednesday.

“Should it have taken place? With hindsight, probably no, but everyone’s wise after the event and the British government was saying that everything was OK.

“That was the very week where the whole thing ramped up with coronavirus... The images from Italy started to come through in great detail and by the end of that week, we were racing behind closed doors in Ireland.”

Italy was one of the worst-hit countries in Europe last month and has recorded more than 27,359 deaths so far due to the virus. The United Kingdom has 161,145 confirmed cases and 21,678 deaths so far, according to a Reuters tally.

“I think with hindsight, people would recognise that Cheltenham would have been much better if it went behind closed doors,” Kavanagh added.

“Not a decision that we have any control over, it’s entirely a matter for the British authorities and the British government.”

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris

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