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Horseracing's Time to Act?

As COVID-19 brings the world to a halt, within the United Kingdom (UK) horseracing is at the centre of discussions.

Horseracings Time to Act

Image provided by http://www.horseracingphoto.co.uk and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Amid safety concerns, Cheltenham festival went ahead as planned, at a time where other sports and mass-gatherings were cancelled globally. Therefore, people are questioning horseracing’s leadership, at a time when we would be talking about bet placing and horse/jockey form. This current leadership scrutiny is compounded by jockeys and trainers demanding the horseracing calendar resumes regardless of safety concerns. Such questions add to the already growing pressure on the UK horseracing industry from animal rights activists and gambling-related harm groups to act socially responsibly.

Meanwhile, the integrity of horseracing in the United States (US) is also in the spotlight, as 27 individuals are currently on trial for multiple indictments associated with doping Maximum Security, who won $20million last month. Coincidently, their trial occurs as UK horserace fixer and horse doper Brian Wright has been released from prison - also raising integrity issues in the UK.

While the British Horseracing Association (BHA) have an anti-doping policy, their Integrity Review in 2016 noted that doping continues to pose a significant threat. The review also called for a change in strategy to focus more on the "protection of the majority of participants who adhere to the Rules of Racing". This shift from policing to protection has already been observed in other sports. Therefore, the BHA acknowledge that they are not radical or revolutionary in their integrity strategy.

Ironically, anti-doping prohibitive laws were initially passed in the late 19th century in horseracing, three decades before being introduced into human-performance sports. So why the slow development in global anti-doping policy and practice in comparison to other sports? The importance of this question is integral to the integrity of the sport, especially given the unique nature of the horseracing industry being intrinsically indivisible from betting markets. The horseracing levy, imposed on bookmakers, supports the sport. Therefore, policymakers have an incentive to eradicate equine doping, not least because of ethical, moral and safeguarding arguments, but also due to the financial stability that ensues from increased confidence amongst the participants and paying public that races are fair. Such confidence is critical to growing betting markets, which increases the levy and provides more funding for the sport to tackle integrity and welfare issues. 

In responding to the threat of equine doping - along with other welfare, safeguarding and equity concerns - the BHA published an updated version of its whistleblowing policy. Acknowledging the need to adopt a more collaborative approach to protecting the integrity of horseracing, the policy is now open to anyone involved at any level of British horse racing. It allows them to report concerns relating to the running of the BHA or the actions or activities of its employees, officials and directors. However, the policy does not apply to people or organisations that are not run by the BHA – such as jockeys, trainers and owners. While the Jockey Club have its own whistleblowing policy, the community is still encouraged to share any concerns over wrongdoing in the sport, via BHA's RaceWISE online and phone reporting service.

The question is, who is going to have the courage to come forward and speak up about anything they find unsafe, unethical or unlawful in horseracing? The observable links to criminal operations and organised crime may put those with information in a vulnerable position. Research conducted by academics in the Carnegie School of Sport, on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency, showed that developing a whistleblowing policy and promoting a reporting line is not enough; sports need to establish an open culture where people feel able to speak up and have confidence that their concerns will be listened to – and acted upon. It is only through the commitment and collective action of every horseracing participant that the integrity of horseracing will be protected.

So, while sport governing bodies need to set clear rules and regulations to protect the authenticity and unpredictability of sporting results, it is not enough without important culture changes. Therefore, collaboration and commitment across sports are key to maintain the enjoyment of sport for both participants and spectators.

About the Authors

Dr Alexander Bond

Alexander is currently Course Leader for the MSc Sport Business Management course.

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Professor Susan Backhouse

Sue is the Director of Research for Sport and Exercise Science, Leisure and Tourism, leading our REF2021 submission. Sue is an interdisciplinary academic serving as a Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Nutrition in the Carnegie School of Sport.

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John Myers

Course Leader in Sport Marketing, Lecturer in Sport Management Group and PhD student.

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