British F1 races set for green light as sport resumes in the UK
The UK government is poised to approve the staging of two Formula 1 races at Silverstone, with elite sport in line to be exempted from new quarantine rules imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sport is eager to stage more than one grand prix in the country this year with the start of the season having been seriously delayed by the Covid-19 crisis.
One hurdle has been crossed with the government having given the go-ahead for elite sports events to resume, behind closed doors, from today.
There were still doubts over the Formula 1 rounds because of quarantine regulations requiring new arrivals in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days. However, it is reported that professional sports will be exempted from these rules, meaning that the grands prix can go ahead, most likely on successive weekends, in early August.
This would also enable English soccer clubs to stage Uefa Champions League matches that same month (unless all remaining matches are played in one city) and the country to host international cricket series this summer.
Formula 1 told BBC Sport: “We welcome the government’s efforts to ensure elite sport can continue to operate and their support for our return to racing. We will maintain a close dialogue with them in the coming weeks as we prepare to start our season [in Austria] in the first week of July.”
Professional sport has been largely at a standstill in the UK since mid-March, but, with the health situation improving, the ‘phase three’ guidance clears the way for a return, without spectators, from this week.
Individual sports will be responsible for agreeing the necessary protocols with athletes, coaches and support staff, and determining when it will be safe to restart.
The first events were set to be a horse racing meeting at Newcastle Racecourse and the start of snooker’s Championship League in Milton Keynes on Monday.
English soccer's Premier League has already confirmed plans to resume its 2019-20 season on 17 June, and the second-tier EFL Championship last night announced a provisional return three days later.
The delayed FA Cup is to continue with the quarter-finals on 27 and 28 June, with the semi-finals to follow on 18 and 19 July and the final, at its traditional home of Wembley Stadium in London, on 1 August.
As things stand, all matches will be held without spectators although there are reports that a reduced crowd of 20,000 could be admitted for the FA Cup final.
However, some leagues will not be resuming their seasons, with the latest to join the list being the British Basketball League, which has terminated its campaign without crowning a champion.
The last major sports event to be held in the UK was horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival, which went ahead, somewhat controversially given the impending pandemic, on 16 to 19 March.
However countries such as France, Germany, USA, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong have already resumed race meetings, and German soccer’s Bundesliga has now been playing for three weeks.
Speaking at a government briefing on Saturday, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments. This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors...
"This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we're creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved."
He added: “It’s up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition. They know their sports best. But football, tennis, horse racing, Formula 1, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others – all are set to return to our screens shortly, with horse racing first out of the gate in the North East next week.
"It’s been a huge challenge to get to this point. We’ve taken a forensic, clinician-led approach, working with Public Health England and the Department of Health every step along the way."
Although domestic cricket has been ruled out until 1 August, the England and Wales Cricket Board is hopeful of proceeding with the scheduled international series.
It was given a boost on Saturday when Cricket West Indies agreed “in principle” to a tour of England in July.
The three-match test series, which was initially due to take place this month, is set to get under way on 8 July, with the games behind closed doors at bio-secure environments such as the Ageas Bowl in Southampton and Old Trafford in Manchester.
England are also due to stage series against Australia, Ireland and Pakistan this summer.