Wednesday 28 June 2017

Safety fears hit cheese rolling

Competitors in one of the annual cheese rolling races at Cooper's Hill, Gloucestershire
Competitors in one of the annual cheese rolling races at Cooper's Hill, Gloucestershire

A famous 200-year-old event in which competitors chase cheeses down a steep English hillside has been cancelled this year due to health and safety concerns, organisers said.

Cheese Rolling at Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire has taken place annually - with some exceptions - since at least 1826. Brave participants run down the 1:2 gradient, often bowling head over heels, in pursuit of a Double Gloucester cheese. The first to the bottom is declared the winner and the event attracts extreme sports enthusiasts from around the globe.

While there has not been a recorded fatality, bruises, dislocations and admissions to hospital on spinal boards are common. Last year saw 58 casualties - 19 of whom were spectators. Six people fainted just watching the event and one man fell out of a tree.

The event was cancelled in 1998 after 33 people were injured the previous year. The event was also scratched in 2001 when the foot-and-mouth outbreak closed much of the countryside. A third cancellation was forced in 2003 when search and rescue teams, who usually help out, were rushed to the Algerian earthquake relief effort. On each occasion a solitary cheese was rolled to keep the tradition alive.

A statement issued by Jean Jefferies, one of the organisers, said that crowd safety, traffic and a trebling of the crowds was behind this year's cancellation. She said: "The attendance at the event has far outgrown the location where it has traditionally been held for several hundred years. Last year more than 15,000 people tried to attend (according to official estimates) which is more than three times the capacity of the site."

Inspector Stephen Norris, of Gloucestershire Police, said: "The organisers of the event, the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling Committee (CHCRC), have an obligation to ensure the safety of those attending. Gloucestershire Constabulary and Gloucestershire County Council have been working with the members of the committee advising them as to how to create a safer event following concerns from previous years.

The first written evidence of the event dates from 1826 but the tradition was established long before - perhaps as a Pagan harvest ritual.

The event's own website warns: "Some people win, some merely finish and many get injured - even the spectators - with mostly sprains and minor injuries, but also broken bones.

"For the competitors it seems to be a risk worth taking, as many come back year after year, some from great distances to win the highly prized cheese."

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