The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the shutdown of one of the few high-profile sports in Europe with the news that Irish racing is to cease until April 19.
The news came on Tuesday night following addition restrictions brought in by Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach. The measures included the cancellation of all sports events until April 19, at the earliest.
Irish racing had been continuing without spectators since the middle of March, though had been subject to strict controls. Those controls including the closure of all race meetings to the public, and social distancing enforced at the tracks themselves. Access to meetings had been restricted to just those individuals deemed essential to the safe and effective running of the sport, which did not include on-course bookmakers, catering or Tote services, although footage of the races was made available for racing broadcasters.
This was in contrast to the situation in UK racing, which had briefly adopted a behind-closed-doors strategy before closing down completely until the end of March, although that date seems likely to be extended. The new measures in Ireland mean that 23 racing fixtures might be at risk, unless they can be rescheduled for a later date. According to reports in the Irish media, officials from Horse Racing Ireland are set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the new measures on the sport.
Speaking in a nationwide address on Tuesday, Varadkar announced sweeping measures and reminded the public of the long-term nature of the shutdown:
“All sporting events are cancelled, including those held behind closed doors. These are unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency. We’re in this for the long haul and this could go on for weeks, if not months. Stay at home, if at all possible.”
The shutdown of Irish racing is also likely to have a further impact on betting fans and the bookmaking industry, which has already closed all of its retail shops in the UK and Ireland.