Sexism, Hypocrisy and Frost Covers

They say never discuss politics or religion in public, to that list I think we can now add don’t discuss sexist issues, even in private.

Unless you have been holed up somewhere for the last week without radio, television, newspapers and the internet you will be aware there has been a huge furore around the subject of sexism in football, in particular, but also in sport and society in general.

I’m not going to go into great detail concerning what was said by Messer’s Gray and Keys - that has been discussed to death elsewhere.

Suffice to say their comments were, in my view, crass but certainly not in the “hang them” category.

As for Gray’s comment regarding the microphone pack, that was adolescent and immature from somebody who should know better. What is interesting with that incident though, is no complaint was made at the time and it seemingly only came to light as if to make a point and to “justify” actions.

I would also add that in the 18 odd years of Sky Sports existence I can only recall ever having watched one live football match, therefore I have no views on the competency, ability or otherwise of Gray and Keys.

There are, however, two aspects of the affair I find worrying.

The first is how the matter came to light in the first place. The comments from Keys and Gray were made off-air, yet somehow a recording of the comments was passed to the media, thus putting them into the public domain.

Who released the recordings to the media and why? Were they leaked with the tacit, or even explicit, knowledge of senior management with Sky? Were they leaked in order to get rid of, specifically, Gray?

If there was no complicity from Sky management, then what action has or will be taken against whoever leaked the recordings? At the very least there must be a copyright  breach.

To me the whole affair looks like a clumsy effort to get rid of a presenter who has seemingly fallen out of favour.     

Had the comments been made “on air” then, yes the position of both men would be untenable. However they were not made on air and no matter how crass the comments may be, the outcry has been disproportionate.

Although no defence per-se, it needs to be remembered that Gray has spent his entire life in the world of football and he played in an era where the game was played in an even more macho environment than now. In effect he knows nothing different, for him it is the norm.

It is a generational thing and attitudes of the younger generations in relation to sexism and other contentious matters are going to be more “enlightened”.

Views are very much impacted by experience and upbringing.

The views of many of my parent’s generation, on matters like race for example, I find incomprehensible but I still do not believe it is the result of inherent racism, it is a reflection how society was in their formative years.  

In my formative years I was taught, by both my mother and grandmother, that a woman’s place is in the home and that raising children takes priority over a career. My mother, almost into her eighties, still strongly holds that view today and to an extent she does have a point (conversely I can see the other side of the argument as well).

So one can see how sexism can become entrenched and it is all too simplistic to criticise people who hold contrary views to ourselves or views which differ from those generally held by society. Bear in mind, also, the norms of society are constantly changing an devolving, not always for the best.

We live in a society where we are supposed to cherish free speech, yet now sometimes you have to wonder if that is so.

In the words incorrectly attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”   

The bigger issue I have is the hypocrisy that has surrounded the whole affair and the hypocrisy comes from many levels.

The first is the hypocrisy from the Murdoch empire.

Again let me declare my hand here. This is undoubtedly the only time in my life I will agree with anything Vince Cable says but I do not like Murdoch or his empire and believe he has far too much influence in political circles.

However, as our American cousins would say, let’s do the math.

Murdoch = The Sun = Page 3 = sexist

Murdoch = Sky = platform for porn stations = sexist

Yet Sky then take a massive hand wringing, holier than thou, attitude when two presenters make off air sexist comments and come out with reams of anti-sexism rhetoric.

Is that not hypocritical?   

There is also the hypocritical attitude of those in “the media” quick to jump on the bandwagon and call for the heads of Keys and Gray.

Of their broadcasters who called for their sacking, I wonder how many could actually put their hands on their hearts and say they have never made an “off air” comment which could be construed as offensive even, dare I say libellous.

If expressing a sexist opinion in the workplace was a sackable offence then I could say with some confidence there would be some very empty press rooms at our racecourses, as well as workplaces the length and breadth of the country. 

Before the ardent feminists form a lynch mob outside my door, I would also point out I have, during my working life, worked in many female dominated offices, sometimes being the only token male. I can categorically say a bunch of women working together can be as, and often far more, sexist than  any predominantly male environment.

A final thought, what about comments passed in press rooms about the honesty of certain trainers or rides given by jockeys, there are many conversations along those lines. Most of them un-broadcastable or un-printable, should the hacks be sacked for stating those views as well? If not where is the line to be drawn?

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In today’s Racing Post senior BHA handicapper Phil Smith says “I’d make frost covers compulsory on all jumps courses.”

Well it’s just as well Phil has a job as a handicapper, as he would make a lousy accountant, more on that anon.

Whilst it is true the deployment of frost covers have managed to save some prominent race meetings, there are as many cases where the application of covers has singularly failed.

The difference cannot be explained simply by differences in temperatures.

For example covers have worked at Cheltenham where the mercury has dropped to -5 or -6 degrees, yet covers have failed to save meetings at Haydock where temperature hit only -2.

The reasons for the success, or otherwise, of the covers are far more complex and require a great deal more research. The question is who pays for the research?

Successful application of frost covers benefits all the racing industry, ergo funding into research should come from all interested parties. Therefore the courses, BHA, Horseman’s Group and the bookmakers should each contribute to the research.

Well they should in an ideal world. Of course the world is not ideal and our world is one where the vested interests cannot even agree on the basic fundamentals of how the sport is funded. We have little chance, therefore, of paying for research into the use of frost covers.

Then we have the financials of frost cover deployment. I am reliably informed a set of covers costs around £30k and the costs of deployment are around £15k, as it is such a labour intensive job.

For Grade One courses the capital and deployment costs may be justifiable, although that has to be questionable. The costs are by no means justifiable for the smaller courses though.

I recall Fontwell’s attempt to cover the course for their Boxing day meeting, they had to rely on volunteers, drawn mainly from Tote staff, to actually lay and lift the covers. It is too much to ask courses to constantly rely on volunteers to deploy covers.

As it is unlikely funding for a detailed investigation could be garnered from all the vested interests then I believe we are left with two possible options.

We can either carry on with the current haphazard system, where courses are left to their own devices in the use of covers, where sometimes it may work and at other times it fails. (Of course there could be a radical rider to this in that the RCA use their regular Clerk Of The Course seminars to actually compare notes and for courses that successfully deploy frost covers to share their knowledge and experiences.)

Alternatively the Levy could commission independent research, coupled with a full cost benefit analysis, into the best way forward in terms of deployment.

Should it turn out not to be economically viable then there is no harm in admitting so and we revert to the system we have had for the past few hundred years, in we let nature take its course. Should that be the case the BHA can extend its proactive response in rescheduling lost races or even fixtures.

The use of frost covers is an initiative that is to be applauded but, once again, racing seems to have managed to show its ability to go off half-cocked, seemingly without any coordination, with individual courses each doing their own thing.

I have said this many times in the past and I make no apologies for saying it again, until racing has a unified, cohesive, management structure running the sport then it is destined to wander aimlessly.

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