Turning A Drama Into Crisis

Once again the BHA continues to demonstrate its unequalled expertise.

Unfortunately the area of expertise in which it currently excels involves pressing the self-destruct button.

Although the last few days have also helped explain why there was an exhibition of JCB equipment at British Champions Day last Saturday – they have been purchased by the BHA to enable them to dig even deeper holes.

The BHA (and others) have managed to turn the new whip rules into arguably the biggest PR disaster the sport has seen, even managing to overshadow the build up to what was racings best ever day last Saturday.

Now let me say I was one of those to welcome the new whip rules and, fundamentally, I still support them. The rules did need clarifying and there was little doubt the ineffectual punishments were encouraging riders to flagrantly ignore the rules, especially in big races.

However, as is often the case, once implemented the snags become apparent.

Two aspects soon became apparent. Firstly it is very difficult, in the heat of the race, for riders to know when they cross the furlong marker. Secondly the punishments for a minor breach can be considered disproportionately draconian.

Matters came to a head when Richard Hughes received his second ban in a matter of days after which he handed in his licence in a spectacular fit of pique.

One of his complaints was he had not been consulted by the BHA regarding the rules.

That is a rather disingenuous comment. The BHA state the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) were fully involved in the review. Indeed the PJA issued a ringing endorsement of the changes.

It seems some jockeys believe the BHA should have consulted individually with riders. That is a ridiculous position to take.

As in the wider world it is standard practice to speak to representative bodies. Employers, unless it is a very small company, will negotiate with either a recognised union or a staff association, who have delegated or contractual responsibility to negotiate on behalf of the staff.

It is no different in this case. The BHA included, in good faith, the PJA in the review. It is abundantly clear the PJA either failed to or did not have the wherewithal to relay full details of the changes to its members.

There is an alternative view that the senior flat jockeys viewed the whip as being an issue for National Hunt racing only and arrogantly assumed they would be immune.

Whatever the reasons the PJA has plenty of culpability in causing the current problems.

So up until the middle of last week the BHA had done reasonably well in this saga although, with the benefit of hindsight, the introduction of the changes could have been better timed.

However since last Thursday the BHA seem to have lost the plot and have managed to make matters worse at every opportunity.

First of all there were a series of contradictory statements from BHA board members, which gave the clear impression the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

Friday then saw the threat of a jockeys strike on the following Monday, although the jockeys were quick to point out it was not a strike but they were merely making themselves unavailable to ride.

It then took the BHA all day to produce a statement saying they were inviting the jockeys to a board meeting, already scheduled for the following Monday. 

Does that imply had the meeting been scheduled for the following week, they would have waited.

With the way the situation was developing would it not have been prudent to have discussions with the jockeys that evening. With modern teleconferencing it would not be rocket science to organise. No the jockeys representations were tagged onto the end of a board meeting as if it was some form of any other business.

The first indication the BHA were not really taking the matter that seriously.

Saturday was British Champions Day and matters came to a head with Christophe Soumillon picking up a five day ban and losing around 50k in prize money for exceeding the new limits by one stroke.

That single ride encompassed the two major flaws in the new regulations.

If matters were not bad enough they were about to get worse for the beleaguered BHA as the Chairman Paul Roy appeared on RUK.

Had it been a boxing match the referee would have stopped the fight as Roy was no match for the peerless Nick Luck.

Frankly Roy’s performance was arrogant, crass and typified the arrogance of those who are supposed to run British racing.

Even those who generally support the new regulations must have despaired at this perfect example of car crash television.

Monday came and the jockeys delegation arrived at the BHA, although I was surprised to see Newmarket trainer  John Gosden has now become a jockey, he seems rather tall for such a role. On the other hand it was probably no great surprise to see him sticking his oar in as he and his with, Rachel Hood, seem to have become racings version of “rent a quote”.

The riders spent an hour and a half making their case and afterwards both sides made the right noises.

The BHA said they would make a statement by 17:00.

Most observers thought it would be a simple decision for the BHA to make, retain the count, scrap the final furlong rule and reduce the punishment for minor infringements. No more than an hours discussion at most.

It was gone 18:00 when the BHA statement appeared, saying the matter will be referred back to the original working party and they will report back by Friday at the latest.

Absolutely unbelievable but typical of a moribund organisation run by committees.

The new rules are fundamentally OK but just need some tinkering.

Racing is facing a crisis, is in the middle of a massive PR disaster, yet the BHA shows no sense of urgency – although, maybe, reporting back in five days is their definition of urgent.

The whip review group are all full time BHA employees. The BHA knew on Friday they were meeting the jockeys on Monday and if they had any modicum of intelligence they would know what the jockeys concerns were.

Why was the whip working party not convened on Sunday, in advance of Mondays meeting? They could then have presented the jockeys with a compromise solution.

Now the BHA board has come across as incompetent and impotent.

When I worked for a major bank we occasionally had problems which could have resulted in bad publicity which would have been damaging to the reputation of the bank. What we certainly did not do was refer the matter to a committee to discuss over the following few days.

 We did all we could to a) resolve the matter as quickly as possible and b) mitigate the damage at all costs. No manager who wanted to keep their job would even consider going home until the matter was resolved, although in most cases professional pride alone was enough that people did everything possible to resolve the matter as soon as possible.            

The BHA board have actually contrived to turn themselves into the laughing stock of sporting regulation – not bad considering they started from a position where they had the advantage.

Whilst all this has been going on what has happened to the 2012 fixture list, not forgetting the upcoming corruption hearings?

I would accuse the BHA of shooting itself in the foot if it wasn’t for the fact they shot them off some time ago.


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