London (AFP) – Pigeon racing will beat snooker and horse racing to be the first sport to return following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on Monday.
Sport has been shut down since March but the British government on Saturday approved the return of domestic competitive action behind closed doors from June 1.
Premier League football is scheduled to restart on June 17 while cricket chiefs still hope to stage a full international programme during the English summer.
But pigeon racing will have a brief moment in the spotlight.
More than 4,000 birds belonging to members of the Barnsley Federation of Racing Pigeons in the north of England are being released from a park ahead of a 90-mile sprint.
Organiser John Greenshield said he was expecting his 35 pigeons in the race to start arriving back around one hour and 50 minutes after they were released.
Retired miner Mr Greenshield, 72, said the green light came earlier than many expected and so many of the birds are far from “match fit”.
But he said the return of racing will be a blessing for many in his community and was “like putting oxygen back into the area”.
“The racing is something for people to get out of bed for,” he said. “People are really looking forward to it.”
– Snooker return –
Reigning world champion Judd Trump will launch snooker’s return behind closed doors in the opening match of the Championship League.
The televised tournament, taking place in the English city of Milton Keynes, is the first event since the Gibraltar Open in March.
Trump described in a tweet how he had been tested for coronavirus before the event: “Arrived in Milton Keynes test done hopefully all clear for action tomorrow… swab up the nose is not enjoyable at all enjoy that everyone.”
Trump faces David Grace and Stuart Carrington tackles Jak Jones in the opening matches on Monday.
Five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first match will be against Kishan Hirani on Friday while Mark Selby, who has three world titles, opens up against Lee Walker on Thursday.
“It will be myself, my opponent and the referee,” Selby told Sky Sports. “I’m due to play Thursday. I’ll go down Wednesday and get tested.
“Then straight to the hotel and lock myself in my room and wait for the results to come back.”
Racing returns at Newcastle with no spectators to watch the 10 flat races and trainers, jockeys and grooms in masks.
Leading flat trainer Hugo Palmer said the resumption of racing was a “tremendous opportunity” for the sport.
“There is precious little else to watch, although it coincides with the day the government allows more people to meet outside,” he added.
The 2,000 Guineas, on June 6 at Newmarket, will be the first of the flat-racing season’s “Classic” races.