As sports organizations around the world respond to concerns over COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, equestrian groups are also modifying or canceling major competitions. Competitors and event organizers will also face a 30-day ban on travel from Europe to the United States, beginning March 13, announced by President Trump on March 11. The ban does not include travel from the United Kingdom, and does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Earlier on March 11, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, meaning the virus technically identified as SARS-CoV-2 is spreading simultaneously across many countries and affecting large populations.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation’s most recent statement regarding COVID-19 was a March 5 letter to members: “While the current number of cases in the United States is low, we recognize the growing concerns of our community with respect to the potential for an increase in cases in coming weeks,” said the letter.
“The USEF Executive Team meets regularly to review the communications on this illness issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and other health organizations,” it continued. The USEF has also provided a resource hub on its website.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale referred organizers to their respective local and national public health recommendations in a March 11 statement. “For anyone else in our community that is planning on organising a major event, it is crucial that you conduct a full risk assessment, together with the local authorities in your country.
“We recommend that organisers check the WHO’s latest guidelines offering key planning recommendations for mass gatherings in the context of the current Covid-19 outbreak,” the statement continued, “which outlines risk assessment, key planning, operational and post-event considerations for organisers during the current outbreak.”
Looking ahead to this summer’s Olympic Games, set to begin in Tokyo on July 25, the FEI said, “The FEI continues to follow the situation regarding Covid-19 very closely and, specifically for Tokyo, we are maintaining regular contact with the IOC, the IPC and the Tokyo Organising Committee.”
The FEI referred members to the WHO document Public Health For Mass Gatherings: Key Considerations.
In Japan, the Olympic Games’ organizing committee said, “Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organisations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases, and we will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organisations. We have never discussed cancelling the Games. Preparations for the Games are continuing as planned.”
On March 3, the IOC Executive Board affirmed, “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) today expressed its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from 24 July to 9 August 2020.”
The International Paralympic Committee reiterated the same cooperation with international authorities, adding, “We have full confidence that the relevant authorities will take all the necessary measures to address the situation, including the ongoing containment measures.”
Under its contract with Tokyo, the IOC has the power to cancel the Olympic Games or withdraw them from the host city “if the safety of the participants is seriously threatened.”
The Olympic Games torch-lighting ceremony took place in Olympia, Greece, on March 12 as planned, but more than 10,000 expected spectators were barred after dozens of cases of COVID-19 infection were reported in the area.
Across Europe, new emergency measures limiting large groups impacted several competitions. On March 9, France banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Organizers of the March 20-22 Saut Hermes at the Grand Palais, which includes the Grand Prix Hermes CSI5*, announced its cancellation.
Organizers of Germany’s CDI Dortmund, which runs March 12-15, are restricting attendance to 1,000 VIP spectators, in accordance with an order limiting large gatherings throughout the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
In Spain, the CDI4* Madrid, slated for March 20-22, was canceled on March 11, according to show director Javier Cotarelo.
And Germany’s CDI4* Mannheim, expected to run May 1-5, was canceled along with the popular consumer fair “Mannheim Maimarkt” with which the competition is associated.
Other international events plan to carry on with modifications. The final Western European League qualifier for the 2020 FEI World Cup Finals at ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands will run on schedule but will be closed to the public.
On March 5, the FEI World Cup Finals Las Vegas website posted news of the first case in local Clark County and said, “ While this is a fluid situation, Las Vegas is currently planning to host the 2020 FEI World Cup Finals. We will closely monitor updated recommendations from the CDC and state and local health authorities as it relates to hosting large events and add appropriate safeguards in coordination with our venue partner and local health response teams to address COVID-19 concerns.”
As of March 11, the total number of COVID-19 cases there had risen to five, according to the Southern Nevada Health District website. With travel from Europe to the United States restricted, it’s unclear whether European competitors and officials will be able to come for the World Cup if it does take place.
Horse show organizers for major U.S. shows such as the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) and Blenheim Equisports shows in California have put out press releases stating that the shows will continue for now, and that facilities have added hand wash stations and rigorous disinfection protocols. California health officials have recommended that mass gatherings of more than 250 people be canceled or postponed through the end of March.
The NCAA announced its March Madness college basketball tournament would go forward without spectators, and the NBA has suspended games following a Utah Jazz player testing positive for COVID-19.
The Chronicle will continue to update with more information on cancelations as they transpire.