Greyhounds run out of the traps at Perry Barr Stadium, near Birmingham.
Greyhounds run out of the traps at Perry Barr Stadium, near Birmingham. Image Credit: AP

A mid-morning greyhound race in a virtually empty venue in central Birmingham wouldn’t typically be an occasion warranting special attention.

For English sports fans, it was a moment to savour.

When six dogs flew out of the traps at Perry Barr at 10.21am on Monday, it marked the return of competitive sports in England after a 75-day shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The name of the winning mutt — Im Sophie — will likely be the answer to a quirky quiz question in years to come, albeit from a questionable ‘sport’ due to its question marks over animal welfare.

Greyhound racing was the first of three sports to resume Monday, with horse racing and snooker also taking place without spectators and on the condition that competitors and officials follow government-approved coronavirus protocols.

A 10-race card took place at Gosforth Park’s all-weather track in the northeast city of Newcastle, where 369 entries from competition-starved horse owners were whittled down to 120 runners. Jockeys wore face masks and only limited personnel allowed on the course.

Horse racing was the last live sport to shut down in Britain — on March 17.

“It’s time to return and I really feel we can come back in a safe way in a way the public can be proud of,” champion jockey Oisin Murphy said, adding that he and his rivals would physically feel “very close to 100 per cent. But the mental sharpness will only come after a few weeks with some practice.”

Snooker’s Championship League was scheduled to start at 3pm in Milton Keynes, with top-ranked Judd Trump in action in the first match.

There are 64 players competing in the tournament and they must all test negative for COVID-19 before entering the arena for matches.

Football in England is set to resume on June 17 with two Premier League games.