According to the Racing Post, Ballybrit Race Track is planning to expand its capacity to 5,000 spectators for the next Galway Races festival.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at Curragh racetrack has already attracted 1,000 spectators, with the fixture serving as a pilot test event, comparable to the UK government’s four-stage blueprint for the relaxing of national lockdown restrictions.
Conor O’Neill, Chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses, believes the next Galway event will be an opportune occasion to further ease racetrack capacity constraints.
In response to the Curragh event, he said: “It was a fundamental step in progressing to a stage whereby we can welcome the return of crowds. It provides the ideal foundation to progress from as we look towards the weeks and months ahead.”
If Galway allows a 5,000-strong throng to attend, it will account for 10 percent of the venue’s overall capacity limit.
Michael Maloney, Racecourse Manager at Galway, acknowledged that “there’s a long way to go to get it over the line,” but added: “It’s something we’ve been working on for the past few weeks and months.
“It was great to see the Curragh do a great job in having a real buzz and atmosphere at the weekend. It was run very well and following on from that, we’d love to see some spectators back at Ballybrit – that’s what we’re here for.”
Loosening of restrictions
The deadline for greater reopening of society has been set for 5 July by Irish government policy on the removal of national lockdown restrictions. This loosening of restrictions is likely to be considered at a government meeting today, with a follow-up expected later this week.
Racing fans were buoyed earlier this week when it was announced that the Leinster hurling semi-finals will be moved to Croke Park, Ireland’s national Gaelic games stadium, to accommodate 8,000 people – the highest turnout at an Irish sporting event since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Maloney continued: “While we have a great festival, the people are really part of Galway. By all means, it’s not a certainty at this stage – far from it – and there’s a long way to go to get it over the line.
“Unfortunately we’re very close to the festival at this stage but we’re going to persevere and hopefully we’ll get a good decision in the next couple of weeks.”
The developments mirror the situation on the other side of the Irish Sea, where horse racing officials have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with ongoing limits on racecourse attendance, while the capacity of other sporting venues, such as football stadiums, has been significantly increased – up to 45,000 people have been permitted to attend the UEFA 2020 European Championship semi-finals at Wembley Stadium, while the capacity of other sporting venues, such as football stadiums, has been significantly increased –
Although 10,000 racing fans were allowed to attend Royal Ascot last week, David Armstrong, Chairman of the Racecourse Association, has expressed his intention to take the matter of capacity limits to the DCMS, immediately after Lawrence Robertson MP highlighted the subject in parliament.