Racing faces fresh appeal to stay shut down

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The Independent Online

As England's Six Nations' Championship game against Ireland in Dublin, scheduled for 24 March, remained in doubt last night, the National Farmers' Union appealed for racing not to resume today.

As England's Six Nations' Championship game against Ireland in Dublin, scheduled for 24 March, remained in doubt last night, the National Farmers' Union appealed for racing not to resume today.

The NFU president, Ben Gill, has written to racing's authorities, asking them not to take part for at least the next seven days. "I know that what we are asking is very difficult and I in no way underestimate the degree of sacrifice involved. But farmers are extremely concerned about the possible spread of foot-and-mouth," he said. "There are many steeplechasers that are kept on farms with other livestock and these will leave farms and return. We must not take even the smallest risk when combating such a terrible disease."

Irish Rugby Football Union officials met with the Department of Agriculture yesterday to discuss the viability of staging the match and a decision will be taken today on whether the game will take place.

The IRFU's statement which said: "The Department of Agriculture will give its formal advice and recommendations to the Union [today], when a further statement will be issued."

Ireland's third-round game with Wales in Cardiff, due to take place last Saturday, was postponed on the advice of the government because it posed a threat to the country's efforts to stop the livestock disease from spreading to its land.

The government feared that 10,000 travelling Irish fans might bring the disease back with them. The Cardiff match has now been rescheduled for 29 April. Scotland's game with Italy will go ahead on 17 March, as a large Italian contingent is not expected to travel to Edinburgh.

France officials said they have yet to make a final decision on their game with Wales in Paris on the same day as the Ireland v England game. French authorities said a postponement could not be ruled out yet.

In an ominous move for the IRFU, the Irish Athletic Association yesterday cancelled the World Cross Country Championships, which were due to take place at Leopardstown racecourse on the same weekend as Ireland's match with England. That event has now been switched to Brussels and in a statement the International Amateur Athletic Federation said: "The IAAF accepts the decision with regret but fully understands that the extraordinary circumstances left the Irish Athletic Association with no alternative but to cancel the event."

The Irish government has also cancelled all horse and greyhound racing, gaelic football, hurling and club rugby until further notice.

Britain resumes racing at Lingfield today after a seven-day ban although doubts remain over next week's Cheltenham Festival, from which all Irish horses have been withdrawn. Officials at Lingfield will be taking extra measures to prevent the spread of the disease. They have asked all drivers of horseboxes attending the meeting to travel down the A22 to the Mormon Temple roundabout and take the B2028 into Lingfield Village. The drivers are requested not to travel to the course via the Blindley Heath turn-off.

The Cyprus v Republic of Ireland World Cup qualifier on 24 March is also under threat. Cyprus has been free of foot-and-mouth disease since 1964 and authorities have taken stringent action to prevent any spread of the virus. Four to five thousand Irish fans are due in Cyprus for two games, an Under-21 European Championship qualifier and the World Cup tie.

A second event in this year's British Rally Championship has been postponed. The Pirelli International Rally, scheduled for 28-29 April, will now take place at the end of October, joining the Rally of Wales in being put back.

The Welsh event, which had been due to start the seven-round series this weekend, was postponed last week and has yet to be re-arranged. It is likely that the British Championship will start with the Scottish Rally in Dumfries on 9 June.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

* Rugby Union: Ireland v England (24 March) - decision today.

* World Cross-Country Championships (24-25 March) - switched to Brussels from Dublin.

* Irish domestic football and rugby, horse and greyhound racing, gaelic football and hurling - all suspended.

* Pirelli International Rally (28-29 April) - switched to October.

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