The Grand National has become the latest major sporting event to be hit by the coronavirus outbreak after next month’s edition of the horse-racing showpiece was cancelled.
The Jockey Club announced yesterday (Monday) that the Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse, which had been due to be held from April 2-4, will not take place following the government’s new public health guidance on avoiding social contact and stopping non-essential travel.
The Jockey Club has deemed it “no longer appropriate” to stage the event, with the government also stating that emergency services will be withdrawn from supporting mass gatherings from today.
Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Aintree and several other leading UK racecourses, had been assessing the feasibility of running the Grand National behind closed doors but the latest government information has made this no longer viable.
Sandy Dudgeon, senior steward of The Jockey Club, said: “The Randox Health Grand National Festival was just three weeks away and it’s very clear to us it will not be possible for the event to take place. Public health must come first.
“We were working on a plan to stage the Grand National behind closed doors given its importance to the racing industry and beyond, but following the new government measures confirmed this evening to help to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, this is not a viable option.
“I know this is hugely disappointing news for the many people who work in our sport and the many millions who were looking forward to this year’s event, but very sadly these are exceptional times and this is the responsible thing to do.”
The British Horseracing Authority also confirmed today that all racing in the country will be suspended with effect from tomorrow. After behind-closed-doors races at Wetherby and Taunton today, all meetings will be cancelled until the end of April. French horseracing body France Galop has also suspended all races until April 15
In other news, the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts promotion has postponed its next three events due to the coronavirus outbreak. Events on March 21, March 28 and April 11 have all been postponed and the move marks a U-turn for UFC president Dana White, who had previously pledged to carry on staging events.
However, in an email to UFC staff obtained by ESPN, White said: “As you’ve heard me say, I’ve been in the fight game for 20 years, and this is what we do: We find a way to keep our events going no matter what.
“But this is different. The whole world is being affected right now, and nothing is more important than the health and safety of you and your families.”
The next UFC event planned after April 11 is at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 18.
Elsewhere, Premiership Rugby has postponed its season for five weeks following the government advice released yesterday. The Board of European Professional Club Rugby has also postponed its Champions Cup and Challenge quarter-finals, which had been scheduled for April 3-5.
The Super League rugby league season has also been suspended until at least April 3 following the coronavirus outbreak. Other organisations that have taken extra measures include the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the German Football League (DFL), who have extended their suspensions until at least May 2 and April 2, respectively.