Cheltenham probably should not have gone ahead: Irish racing chief

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London (AFP)

Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh believes the Cheltenham Festival should probably have been cancelled because of the coronavirus.

The prestigious four-day Cheltenham meeting ran from March 10-13 despite the swift spread of the virus at that time.

Premier League football was postponed from March 13 and Kavanagh feels it would have been wiser to halt the racing or move the festival behind closed doors.

"I think with hindsight, people would recognise that Cheltenham would have been much better if it went behind closed doors," Kavanagh said in an interview with Sport For Business on Wednesday.

"It is not a decision that we have any control over, it's entirely a matter for the British authorities and the British government.

"It was still 10 days before the pubs were closed in Ireland, so social distancing as we know it now was not really that well known at that time.

"But it certainly couldn't have come at a worse week, it was unfortunate because it was the last major sporting event to take place.

"Should it have taken place? With hindsight, probably no but everyone's wise after the event."

Up to 68,000 spectators attended each day of the Festival seven weeks ago, including around 10,000 who travelled from Ireland.

There were calls for an inquiry about whether the event should have gone ahead after figures showed Gloucestershire hospitals, which cover Cheltenham, recorded more deaths from the virus than a number of neighbouring areas.

But Kavanagh had sympathy for Cheltenham organisers, saying: "The idea of saying in the middle of their Festival, we're aborting after two days or we're going behind closed doors when your government is telling you not to and when you've got so many people in situ, it's not easy."