A Matter Of Discipline

Corruption – not the prettiest of words, but a word that has been to the fore in recent weeks with several high profile disciplinary panels sitting and pronouncing.

Their verdicts have been nothing, if not, controversial and have posed more questions than answers.

The biggest anomaly has been the varying punishments handed out.

Trainer Karl Burke has been handed one year disqualification for associating with a disqualified individual. The disciplinary panel verdict makes good reading and one can see, and agree, with their reasoning and the punishment handed out.

Contrast Burkes punishment to that handed down to jockey Fergal Lynch. A jockey who admitted throwing races, in most eyes one of the most heinous crimes in the sport, outside being cruel to horses.  Yet he was able to ‘plea bargain’ a, or him, modest fine and a informal agreement not to ride in this country for a year.

Yet he was, until the US authorities intervened, able to continue his career overseas. His “punishment” made an absolute mockery of the disciplinary process. He should have faced a “minimum” worldwide ban from all aspects of racing for five years and when that ban was over still never be able to ride for life.  

Paul Struthers who is the BHA’s official spokesman, who must surely have one of the most difficult and unenviable jobs in PR, says the BHA are currently reviewing the penalty structure – and not before time.

However reviewing the structure is one thing, implementing it is another.

Disciplinary hearings are heard by independent panels who, even now, err on the side of extreme caution and frequently come in with punishments below the recommended entry points.

Yes the authorities are in a difficult position.

We are now living in a society where litigation is commonplace and those facing bans which will effectively deprive them of their livelihoods, will fight such decisions in the courts – after all what have they to lose?

The authorities, reluctant to incur costs or attract bad publicity, will then fight shy of legal action and compromise.    

Therein lies a vicious circle.

The answer. Review the rules and punishments, ensuring they are fair and the punishment fits the crime. Also ensure the penalties are legally enforceable taking into account relevant legislation.

Ensure there is a fair an open disciplinary process. I am not advocating public hearings but allow a press presence – it can be a single pooled reporter to prevent the hearing becoming some form of freak show – with reporting being on the same basis as criminal cases to protect all parties.

Allow an adequate appeals process.

When due process is complete, if the individual then wants to take legal action it should be challenged and fought all the way by the authorities.

If the process is correct and the punishment deemed appropriate by the authorities then they should have nothing to fear, it should stand up to scrutiny in the courts. By standing up to and contesting such actions it will send out the message the authorities mean business. It will only need one or two failed court actions by corrupt trainers or jockeys for the message to be clearly sent out that corruption will not be tolerated.

In this mornings Racing Post I read the Racecourse Association Chief Executive, Stephen Atkins, is suggesting racecourses should take responsibility for integrity. I have never heard such a half baked suggestion and if that is the sort of suggestion emerging from the racecourses then I despair for the future of the sport.

Integrity is the responsibility of the central authority, in this case the BHA. Having different courses looking after integrity would be farcical.

Atkins has already admitted it could be “more cost-effective” for that read lower priority.

Racecourses already employ Clerks Of Courses and we already know the pressure they come under to race at almost all costs – regardless of the integrity and safety of the course.

Most Clerks will admit, off the record of course, they come under pressure to race when the decisions are borderline. After all it is financially better for the courses to get one race run, thus avoiding the need to refund customers, than to abandon before racing.

Can you imagine a similar scenario with integrity – would a particular course want the stigma of having an iffy race run on their track? Would they turn a blind eye to borderline infringements?    

For all its faults I would much rather have integrity controlled, managed and financed centrally.




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