The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) has released its plan to restore UK greyhound racing in a gradual resumption of racing starting as early as 18th May 2020. All greyhound racing in the country had been suspended since 24th March 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The GBGB plan would see a five-phase approach to a resumption of behind-closed-doors greyhound racing as soon as the current government restrictions can be relaxed.
According to a GBGB statement, the policy “is the culmination of considerable planning and consultation through an industry-led working group that has sought to balance the necessary requirements for health and safety with safeguarding greyhound welfare and the sport's integrity”.
The comprehensive policy sets out five phases which will each last at least two weeks, as follows:
- Phase 1 – Trial meetings only behind closed doors
- Phase 2 – Resumption of racing behind closed doors (a maximum of 10 races at a minimum of 30 minutes' gap between races)
- Phase 3 – Racing behind closed doors (a maximum of 12 races at a minimum of 25 minutes' gap between races)
- Phase 4 – Racing behind closed doors (no limit on the number of races but a minimum of 20 minutes' gap between races)
- Phase 5 – Return to normality (subject to government guidance on social distancing and public gatherings)
Each phase would be subject to the strict controls as set out in the policy and up-to-date government guidance. The policy will be updated as appropriate in line with any future changes to the government's advice and direction.
Commenting on the release of the five-phase plan, Managing Director of GBGB Mark Bird said: “Throughout the cessation of racing, we have been actively preparing for the time when the government feels able to ease some of the restrictions of this ‘lockdown' period. For several weeks now, our dedicated working group has worked tirelessly to ensure that every possible consideration is made towards enabling a safe, effective and phased resumption of greyhound racing under the government guidance available.
“It will be clear to all in viewing the Operational Policy just how much time and energy has gone into this work and I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved in the consultation process. In everything that is being set out, our priorities have been to find a way forward that safeguards the health of every person involved in greyhound racing, and of the country more widely, whilst retaining our high levels of welfare and integrity.
“As the sport's regulator, we continue to be led by what is in the best interests of the greyhounds at the heart of our sport. We all recognise that a rapid return to some form of racing is the right course of action – not only because of the financial impact on trainers and owners, but because of the physiological needs of greyhounds as canine athletes. However, we have been vocal throughout that it would be irresponsible to seek to resume racing without taking the time to prepare fully and adopt all the appropriate health and safety protocols.
“This Operational Policy therefore presents an effective means for phasing in a return to greyhound racing – prioritising in the first instance graded races to support the vast majority of greyhounds and with the minimum amount of movement between racecourses. We have incorporated strict controls for monitoring and validating the hygiene and social distancing measures in place so that, at each stage, we can be sure of their success. We are confident that the process we are proposing gives us the best chance of progressing quickly and safely through the phases to an eventual resumption of normal racing activity, albeit behind closed doors.
“We have now shared our plans with colleagues at DCMS and DEFRA, in advance of the government announcements expected later this week on changes to the current ‘lockdown' period. Subject to this update, we hope to be able to begin Phase 1 – behind closed doors trials – as early as Monday, 18th May. At the very least, with the release of this Operational Policy, we want to give racecourses, trainers, kennel staff and owners the information they need to begin preparations to return to racing behind closed doors.
“During this difficult time, we appreciate the financial burden, worries and concerns of trainers, owners and racecourses and are thankful for the sport's patience and understanding as we do our best to deliver for you all and for your greyhounds. This Policy provides the firm foundations for the return to racing that we all want and demonstrates how, with everyone's support and cooperation, we can do so safely and successfully in short order.”