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Monday, December 6, 2021

Racing’s flawed review into the whip will never open closed minds

The British Horseracing Authority’s whip review is progressing. 

The first stage was to collect responses to a questionnaire which was accompanied by videos that brazenly led the participants.

As one seasoned observer put it: “one [of the videos] explained that the whip is effectively a piece of foam designed by the RSPCA, and the second showed how current rules mean it is hardly ever used”.

Some of the respondents were then invited to join focus groups by market research firm Trinity McQueen, which will have followed its brief that it should select respondents from “various sectors”. I was not selected. Perhaps I do not fit into any of them?

This modus operandi, however, is a huge error. It is an absolute waste of time filling focus groups with people who either work within the racing industry or are regular, satisfied racegoers. By default, they will be happy with the whip status quo.

As importantly, it is also pointless listening to the views of individuals who will never be horseracing fans because they think the sport is cruel. That “sector” is not interested in making racing more appealing to a wider audience.

The only “sector” that is pertinent is made up from occasional racegoers and viewers who watch racing once a year when they have a flutter on the Grand National.

If racing could understand what would make them go racing regularly and watch on TV more often, the review would be a success. And it requires only one, unloaded question: What prevents you from engaging with horse racing more?

It would very quickly become apparent as to whether the whip is hindering the wider popularity of racing, or not.

Meanwhile, the focus group results are being fed into the steering group. This group, according to the BHA, is not “representative”, meaning that the individuals are there to express, and presumably attempt to advance, their personal views.

The BHA has drawn on people from wider “sectors”, such as politics, horse welfare and media. But it has also stacked the steering group with industry insiders who will be under pressure from their peers to deliver a groupthink fudge.

Their most predictable recommendations will be harsher bans for the jockeys and an educational campaign to teach the public that the whip is an essential tool of horse welfare.

Ironically, however, the most enlightening aspect of the steering group is not who is on it, but who is not. There was no invitation for Sir Anthony McCoy, even though he now brings a wider perspective to the debate through his media work. Two birds with one stone there, but perhaps breeds the BHA does not like?

There was also no invitation to Sir Mark Prescott, widely acknowledged as one of the more enlightened intellects in racing and a veteran of other countryside sports that have been under pressure.

It is monstrous and insulting that his knowledge has not been utilised. Of course, his belief that horses that win races after their jockeys have broken the whip rules should be disqualified may not fit into the required groupthink result?

It is also a glaring omission that John Francome is not part of the steering group. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that he is on record as supporting radical change. Or perhaps it is not?

Finally, just to make sure the whole process is a complete and utter farce, the steering group recommendations will be run past industry bodies to make sure the right result has been achieved.

Am I the only person who thinks that this whole process is just a charade intended to kick the issue into the long grass with a bit of tinkering, rather than a concerted attempt to boost racing’s popularity?

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