‘It was the right decision for the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead’

It was the correct decision for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival to go ahead, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority has said.

Nick Rust defended the meeting from criticism, held with around 250,000 people in attendance amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Staging such a large public gathering has divided opinion, with Piers Morgan and 20-times champion jockey AP McCoy joining a heated debate across the industry.

Several celebrities, including comedian Lee Mack and Southampton striker Charlie Austin, suggested they caught the virus at Cheltenham.

While a large number of people have made similar claims on social media.

Rust pointed out other well-attended sporting events were held in the days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson put UK households on lockdown- and stated it was right Cheltenham was given the green light.

"The weekend before Cheltenham we had a full Premier League football programme, we had a Six Nations match at Twickenham, we had Crufts indoors during that week – we were being encouraged to keep up the positive message by running the Cheltenham Festival," he said.

"All of the Government's scientific advice, and indeed that of the chief medical officers within the BHA and RCA (Racecourse Association), was that based on all the advice on all the Government advice and based on where we were that Cheltenham could go ahead.

"Of course we thought about it a lot. And the mood actually changed that week – I didn't hear massive calls for people not to be racing at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

"There were massive calls to listen to Government advice, don't move away from that Government advice, there is no reason why you should not be carrying on and you must carry on because we need to make sure Government advice is followed.

"Those are the messages we got.

"Clearly by the end of that week things were starting to change, the Government came out with its budget on the Wednesday and there was another statement from the Prime Minister on the Thursday and finally on the following Monday things changed a lot.

"You could see the mood in Government had changed tremendously based on the evidence available to it."

The UK has so far recorded more than 12,000 deaths from coronavirus since the pandemic began.

There are more than 98,000 cases, although it has been suggested by England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty that the peak is near.

McCoy, speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain on Monday, pitched blame at the UK government's door rather than that of the festival's organisers.

"Everyone with hindsight can say we shouldn't have done certain things," Rust added on Sky Sports Racing.

"There are all sorts of things that shouldn't have happened in this country if you want to remove risk completely.

"But based on the advice from the Government at the time it was the right decision for The Festival to go ahead."

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