Cheltenham confident festival will not be stopped by coronavirus
Cheltenham supremo Ian Renton is confident it will be business as usual at next month's Festival, despite the increasing concern that the coronavirus outbreak could reach pandemic scale as new cases continue to be reported across the globe.
The threat of coronavirus was discussed at Monday’s annual meeting between the BHA and Cheltenham as the track prepares for jump racing's marquee festival starting a week on Tuesday, which is set to be attended by more than a quarter of a million people.
A racing industry steering group, comprising representatives from the BHA, Racecourse Association and horsemen, has been established to consider the implications on the sport of the coronavirus outbreak and has agreed to follow government guidance on preventing the spread of the virus.
That guidance has been shared around the racing industry as a first measure, but a policy regarding abandonment of fixtures has not yet been deemed necessary and Renton is confident the four-day festival will proceed without restriction.
"The racing industry is in close touch with the government, who are doing a great job with measures to try to restrict any spread," said Renton on Wednesday.
"There have been only 13 cases in Britain and there is a need to be prepared, but we're looking forward to the festival, which is going ahead."
Betfair opened a 'Will Racing Go Ahead?' market on their exchange on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday evening 'no' was trading at around 3.25 (from an opening 4.1).
More than £60,000 had been traded on the market by 6pm on Wednesday, with 'yes' at around 1.4.
The BHA said on Wednesday there are mechanisms to allow major fixtures which are cancelled or abandoned for any reason to be restaged at a later date, but that the sport is in agreement there is as yet no need to develop a policy regarding the abandonment of any specific fixtures due to coronavirus.
A BHA spokesman added: “The industry’s steering group, comprising the Racecourse Association, BHA and horsemen, will continue to liaise with government and monitor the implications of coronavirus. Further information or guidance will be issued to the industry as and when appropriate.”
The virus, which spread from China and has gained a foothold in Europe following significant outbreaks in northern Italy, has already started to impact sporting events in Europe, with further disruption to Six Nations matches announced on Wednesday.
After Scotland women's Six Nations match in Italy was postponed at the weekend, Ireland's men's and women's games against Italy in Dublin on March 7 and 8 have now been postponed.
Ireland's chief medical officer said on Wednesday the decision to call for the postponement of the matches in Dublin had "not been made lightly".
There have been no confirmed reports of coronavirus in Ireland, with more than 90 suspected cases turning out to be negative.
Thousands of racing professionals and fans are set to travel to Cheltenham from Ireland next month but Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh stressed on Wednesday there has been no official instruction regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
He said: "We've had no direct contact with the Department of Health or the UK racing authorities. As far as we're concerned it's business as usual.
"We'll keep an eye on developments and work with the necessary authorities in relation to any Irish events. Anything that happens in the UK is a matter for authorities over there."
More than 7,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons on Wednesday. Of those, 13 have tested positive and eight have since been discharged.
In Europe, new cases have been recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Most were tied to Italy, which has now confirmed more than 320 cases of the virus.
The FTSE 100 share index has seen its sharpest drop since January 2016 following the outbreak, while global markets continue to slide amid economic uncertainty. The possible cancellation of major sporting events has the potential to be particularly bleak for bookmakers.
William Hill chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said it would be a hard task to predict the financial impact on the company if the Cheltenham Festival or football's European Championships were cancelled.
"With all these big events there is a massive customer acquisition opportunity - you get a lot of recreational players coming online for these events," Bengtsson told analysts after unveiling the company's annual results for 2019 on Wednesday.
"In terms of the financial impact beyond that, it's very much results driven. You can have a very good event or a poor event, it's really hard to predict at this point."
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