Cheltenham, Euro 2020 And The London Marathon: Here's What Major Events May Look Like In 2021

We spoke to the organisers of some of the most iconic events in the UK calendar.
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Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, our 2020 calendars have remained depressingly bare.

Big fat crosses mark the things we had organised at the start of the year, while empty pages in the last few months show when we stopped trying to make plans.

But with news about potential coronavirus vaccines coming thick and fast in recent weeks, the prospect of big events returning to our diaries in 2021 seems more and more likely.

We asked the organisers of some of the most iconic UK events whether they think they will go ahead next year – and what they might look like if they do.

Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Festival was one of the last major events to take place in 2020 when it went ahead in March, just before lockdown
Cheltenham Festival was one of the last major events to take place in 2020 when it went ahead in March, just before lockdown
Dan Mullan via Getty Images

For horse racing fans, the Cheltenham Festival is a major event in the calendar, with thousands flocking to Cheltenham Racecourse every year for the four-day event.

In March 2020, just weeks before the UK was put into lockdown, more than 250,000 people attended the Festival. Some suggested it could have helped to spread coronavirus, though leaders insisted all official guidance was followed.

Regional director Ian Renton said that the 2021 event is likely to look very different amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The suggestion by politicians and experts in late September that the current surge in Covid-19 cases – and the accompanying restrictions – is likely to last six months looms large in organisers’ minds, he explained.

“So we fear that even with mass vaccines that March is probably going to come a little bit too early to have anything approaching a normal festival,” he said.

“The worst scenario we anticipate is it being run behind closed doors, with owners present.

“We would then look at the possibility of having annual members, which can amount to 4,000 to 5,000 people a day and maybe a little bit of hospitality on top. That would be one stage.

Renton added: “There are all sorts of options if further testing and protocol come into play that could see those numbers increase a little, but we certainly don’t anticipate having anywhere close to our normal capacity in March.”

Horse racing resumed in the UK at the start of June, but has been held behind closed doors, with fans not able to attend.

Chelsea Flower Show

The Duchess of Cambridge shows the Queen and Prince William around her 'Back to Nature Garden' garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019
The Duchess of Cambridge shows the Queen and Prince William around her 'Back to Nature Garden' garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019
GEOFF PUGH via Getty Images

The Chelsea Flower Show was forced to go online this year, with lockdown rules making the usual show-stopping transformation of London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea impossible.

It was the first time since the Second World War that the show – which is regularly frequented by the Queen – had been cancelled.

But with six months to go until the 2021 Chelsea Flower Show, organisers – who have considered “every plan from A to Z” – have made a series of changes to make sure it can go ahead.

Among the biggest is reducing the number of visitors from 168,500 to 140,000 and spreading them over six days, rather than the traditional five.

“We are approaching everything in a more dynamic fashion,” said head of shows development Katherine Potsides.

Changes will also be made to the site layout to encourage social distancing and closing sit-in restaurants in favour of cafes with outdoor picnic opportunities.

“Obviously, we know that things will change between now and next March – we’re just making sure that we’re ready to act upon any advice,” said Potsides.

“But we are confident that we have made the right changes to run a Covid-secure event next year.”

Euro 2020

Portugal players celebrate with the winners trophy during the UEFA Euro 2016 Final match between Portugal and France
Portugal players celebrate with the winners trophy during the UEFA Euro 2016 Final match between Portugal and France
Craig Mercer - CameraSport via Getty Images

Euro 2020 was never going to be easy to organise – even before the world was brought to a screeching halt by a global pandemic.

Unlike tournaments in previous years, the major football tournament was set to be held in 12 European cities – including Glasgow and London.

So it came as a surprise to no one when UEFA announced in March it was pushing back the competition by a full year, with the tournament due to take place between June 11 and July 11, 2021.

But with football fans still missing from stadiums in the UK, what will Euro 2020 look like? According to UEFA, it’s still too early to say.

In a statement, the football governing body said it wants to hold the tournament “in the format and venues confirmed earlier this year”, adding that is “working closely with all host cities on preparations”.

“Given the uncertainties surrounding Covid – over which neither UEFA nor the local organising bodies have control – it is currently too early to say whether those games in June and July will have restrictions either on fans or even their staging.”

Organisers are still planning for the tournament to take place in all 12 cities, UEFA said. There are currently no plans to change any of the venues, but “decisions that run counter to that plan could be made much nearer the time if necessary”.

But speaking to The Sun last week, sports minister Nigel Huddleston struck a more positive tone.

“We want fans back in stadia as quickly as is safe to do so,” he told the newspaper.

“And the real progress we are making on testing and vaccines means that next year’s Euros are firmly in our sights.”

Glastonbury

View of the Pyramid Stage during the Killers headline set on day 4 of Glastonbury 2019
View of the Pyramid Stage during the Killers headline set on day 4 of Glastonbury 2019
EMPICS Entertainment

2020 was supposed to mark 50 years of the iconic Glastonbury Festival – 50 years of muddy fields, toilets you would rather forget and incredible performances from some of the biggest music acts in the world.

But celebrations were cancelled in March as the seriousness of coronavirus and its impact on the UK became clear.

With 135,000 people having already bought a ticket – which will be rolled over to 2021 – people are keen to know how – and if – Glasto will go ahead in June.

But organisers have remained pretty tight-lipped so far about how the festival might look in 2021.

When we asked them, they pointed us to towards this tweet sent by co-organiser Emily Eavis at the end of August.

Wimbledon

2019 men's singles title winner Novak Djokovic during the final against Roger Federer
2019 men's singles title winner Novak Djokovic during the final against Roger Federer
Tim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images

Wimbledon – it’s a quintessential part of British summertime.

If you’re lucky enough to get tickets, it means strawberries and cream, Pimms and getting sloshed on Henman Hill. If you’re not, it means sneakily watching matches on your phone at work.

But in 2020, centre court remained empty as the Covid-19 pandemic raged on.

But organisers are hopeful that the 2021 Championships will go ahead – and have laid out three possible scenarios for the tournament, depending on the situation with Covid-19.

The first option is a “full capacity” tournament, like the ones held before the pandemic.

The second scenario is a “reduced capacity” Championships, while the third option is a “behind closed doors tournament” without spectators.

Which of these plans will go ahead will depend on the “status of government and public health guidelines”, organisers said in a statement online.

“Staging The Championships in 2021 is our number one priority and we are actively engaged in scenario planning in order to deliver on that priority,” said Sally Bolton, chief executive of the AELTC.

London Marathon

Crowds of athletes take the finishing straight in front of the Buckingham Palace during the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Crowds of athletes take the finishing straight in front of the Buckingham Palace during the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

With 26.2 miles of road closures and tens-of-thousands of athletes and spectators to manage, an event like the London Marathon presents unique logistical challenges during a normal year – but 2020 forced the event to change drastically.

It was announced in March that the marathon as we know it would be postponed until October. When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere fast, the event – with the exception of the elite races which took place within a “biosecure bubble” – was moved fully online.

The entire logistics of the event changed radically, event director Hugh Brasher explained, with a new app developed in just eight weeks – technology that eventually allowed more than 39,000 people to take part across 109 different countries.

But what about the 2021 race, which has already been pushed from its traditional slot in April to October in the hopes of maximising the chance of all runners being able to take part?

“I don’t want to go into specifics of all the different plans because invariably they’ll change, but we’re incredibly positive,” said Brasher.

“The news of the vaccine is incredibly positive and I think what everyone has to do is look for the positive but also deal with all the other scenarios, which is exactly what we’re doing.”

That doesn’t mean that trying to plan a huge event in the middle of a pandemic is easy, though.

“The government is in an incredibly difficult position, but I don’t think they’re covering themselves in glory through a lack of logical thought process,” he continued. “Everybody is in an incredibly difficult position trying to navigate through this.

“We’re talking about an outdoor event… scientists are trying to catch up and are saying ‘we need to follow the science’, but the problem is that science doesn’t know the answers, they are trying to find them out.”

Brasher added: “Events companies are fantastic at logistics, we understand how to move people around and we model that moving around. I think that what the world needs is better partnerships.

“That’s definitely what’s happening in some instances, but I think that should be expanded further because it is only through pooling our knowledge and working together that we will find the right way through this.

“There could be a lot more being done than there is, and I think there should be more consistency which is what we’re lacking in many of the decisions.”

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