British greyhound racing makes its official return today, making it the first professional sporting event in the UK since the easing of lockdown measures.

Today’s resumption follows the government guidelines that broadcast sport can begin behind closed doors from 1st June. The first race back this morning is at Perry Barr, entitled ‘ARC Thanks To NHS and Key Workers Race’ to pay tribute to NHS staff and key workers’ contributions throughout this unprecedented period.

In preparation for today’s restart, over the past fortnight, racecourses across the country have been running a behind-closed-doors trials process. Personnel have been strictly adhering to GBGB’s phased COVID-19 Operational Policy to guarantee the return to work is safe, responsible and effective and in line with government guidance. This sets out the enhanced hygiene, social distancing and safety measures required to remain ‘COVID-secure’.

Today’s resumption of racing sees the sport moving successfully into Phase Two of the Operational Policy. Strict limits remain on the numbers of licensed personnel allowed at the track, with a 30 minutes’ gap between each race to ensure cleaning procedures and social distancing can be maintained effectively. When racecourses can move onto future phases of the Policy, these restrictions will be slowly relaxed.

The open race calendar remains suspended, but this is being continually reviewed in line with the most up-to-date advice from the government. As restrictions continue to be eased – and more shops, businesses and public spaces are allowed to reopen – the potential looks greater for a rapid return to these competitions.

Mark Bird, GBGB Managing Director said:

“We have been clear from the start of the lockdown that a swift return to racing is in the best interests of our greyhounds. We are thrilled to be racing again and to be flying the flag for our sport as the first to return, albeit behind closed doors for the time being. 

“We are in the unique position of having no human participants which has meant that, with careful planning, we have been able to get the show back on the road today. Racecourses have had to contend with a whole host of new measures that successfully safeguard not only our dogs but the health and wellbeing of staff and colleagues too. But the trials process has demonstrated that this can be done, which is the important thing.  

“This has been a tumultuous time and, as a sport, we have had to weather it together. The closure of Peterborough has been a particularly unfortunate outcome of this period and we continue to work with those trainers and owners as they put in place their next steps. As announced this week, we will also be continuing to provide financial support to those trainers currently unattached or still unable to begin racing through our welfare hardship payments this June. 

“Today, however, is a real cause for celebration and I would like to like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has worked tirelessly to get us into this next phase of our COVID-19 Operational Policy. Over the past two weeks of trialling, tracks, trainers and their staff have demonstrated that they have been able to adapt successfully to our ‘new normal’. We also need to remember that owners have remained extremely patient at not seeing their dogs but they have stood by their trainers throughout this uncertain time.

“I know everyone will be delighted to see our greyhounds back on the track and doing what they love most.”

Yarmouth 18th May 2019
Photo: © Steve Nash