Off-road training event shut down by police amid Covid guidance confusion in Staffordshire
Guidance surrounding outdoor events in a Covid-19 world is proving difficult to understand for police and organisers in England.
Short circuit trackdays have been running with the Government’s blessing since the end of May but some motocross and enduro facilities are having their events kiboshed by police who say the activity is illegal.
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Steve Ireland owns WOR Events in Staffordshire and was forced to cancel the second day of an enduro practice weekend despite spending more than £2000 on social distancing signage and PPE, such as hand sanitiser stations.
"It’s just a crazy, crazy situation," Ireland told MCN. "It’s a pay and play event, so you have to book on to attend. There were no spectators allowed and vehicles had to park four metres apart. All the attendees paid in advance, so there was no cash on the day and I had 25 members of staff enforcing social distancing."
But Staffordshire Police deemed that no amount of PPE and social distancing could mean the event was legal. Chief Superintendent Carl Ratcliffe said: "We understand people are eager to get back to normal and enjoy some of those activities that they have not been able to take part in over the past weeks, but there are still restrictions in place which mean gatherings of more than six people, not from the same household, cannot currently take place.
"There are some exceptions covering the training and competition of elite sportspeople but after seeking further clarification from the organisers about this event it became clear that these did not apply and so we asked them to cancel the event. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to do so and we were required to close it down."
Staffordshire Police’s decision appears to run in direct contradiction to guidance from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) who say: "Whether something is a mass gathering or a legitimate use of an outdoor sports facility depends on a wide range of things including whether the organisers are adequately enforcing social distancing, whether people are in groups larger than six within the wider space, and whether everyone is exercising or some people are spectating.
"The Government is clear that sports participation should be restricted to participants exercising by themselves, with members from their same household, or in a group of no more than five other people from other households, while observing social distancing guidelines. Venues are advised to display signs to this effect."
So what next? Well for future WOR Events, Staffs Police have left the ball firmly in Steve’s court, advising: "If at this early stage you deem the event to breach the current legislation, can you please consider cancelling them now and we are more than happy to provide the necessary guidance to assist once legislation allows."
But it’s very difficult to make the call when the DCMS suggest it should be alright to run but refuse to comment on specific cases and while police clearly believe it’s not. Event organisers are left stuck in the middle and without a court case with a judicial ruling, it’s left entirely down to interpretation.
Riders left scratching their heads by law
As the Government continues to relax its lockdown rules, certain business and venues have been given the green light to resume activities provided they are Covid safe. Outdoor sports venues such as tennis courts and golf courses were explicitly mentioned in the new guidance released on May 13.
The DCMS advised MCN that short circuit trackdays are covered by the same logic as long as social distancing measures are followed. Staffordshire Police declined to comment further on why they believe an off-road day is different from a trackday.
Steve Ireland: 'I'm in a £10K hole'
Ireland has had to offer all of the participants their money back and estimates that having the event shutdown will have cost him over £10,000. He is also unsure where he stands for his next event, which is sold out.
He said: "The land owner still needs to be paid and so do the insurance company. I’ve had to send over £8000 back to customers, too. I don’t want to have to pursue this, but I’ll have to try and recover my financial losses if it turns out I was shut down unfairly."