Sydney-Hobart yacht race canceled after new COVID outbreak

SYDNEY (AP) — The Sydney to Hobart yacht race has been canceled for the first time in its history, with organizers admitting border restrictions forced by Sydney’s new coronavirus outbreak made it impossible to stage the race.

“We are bitterly disappointed to cancel the race this year, especially considering the plans and preparations we had put in place to have a COVID-safe race,” Cruising Yacht Club commodore Noel Cornish said in announcing the cancellation on Saturday.

The race, first held in 1945, was scheduled to begin Dec. 26 as part of a Boxing Day tradition in Australia. The yachts leave Sydney Harbor amid a huge spectator fleet of boats and travel down the east coast of New South Wales state en route to the island state of Tasmania and its capital Hobart.

“We were so well prepared to run the race,” Cornish said. “The primary consideration for the club continues to be the safety of competitors, members and staff, along with the health and welfare of the people of New South Wales and Tasmania.”

The final blow to the race came when Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein announced on Saturday that all people arriving from Sydney would have to undergo 14 days of quarantine. He confirmed no exceptions would be made for the Sydney to Hobart race and its sailors.

Earlier in the day, the New South Wales health department announced a further 23 COVID-19 cases, prompting the state government to enforce a lockdown in Sydney’s northern beaches area until Wednesday.

Around 150 sailors registered for the event — about a third of the fleet’s crew — are in that hot-spot area and not allowed to travel to Tasmania.

“It is unlikely the restrictions and advice will lift in the immediate future,” Cornish said. “As such, the immense logistics involved in reorganizing and running a significant sporting event … as well as the planning and preparation required by crews, precludes the club from postponing the race.”

Around 100 entries were initially expected for this year’s race, but numbers had dropped back to 75 yachts as travel restrictions and economic circumstances impact on participants from around the world.

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