ROME (Reuters) – The Palio of Siena, often described as the toughest horse race in the world, will not be run this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor of the Tuscan city said on Thursday.
The bareback race, where riders and horses have to charge three times around Siena’s main, mediaeval square, is held twice a year, on July 2 and Aug. 16.
It was last cancelled in the 1940s because of World War Two.
City authorities had originally looked just to postpone the 2020 races until later in the year. On Thursday, they threw in the towel and called them off until 2021.
“It was a very painful and unanimous decision,” mayor Luigi De Mossi told reporters, saying it would be impossible to maintain social distancing during the Palio, which normally draws tens of thousands of tourists to Siena.
“The Palio is a festival for the people and at the moment, given the conditions, this cannot be experienced in the right way,” he added.
The race dates back to the Renaissance era and has been cancelled only rarely through the centuries, including in 1855 because of an outbreak of deadly cholera.
Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, with more than 31,000 people dying since the outbreak first came to light in late February.
The government is gradually rolling back restrictions imposed in March to try to contain the disease, but says people must remain at a safe distance from each other.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson