The BHA – when saying sorry has to stop
The cock-up surrounding Andre Atzeni’s non-appearance in the saddle on Champions Day at Ascot was another incident where the BHA was forced to issue an apology.
Atzeni had been given a two-day ban by French racing authority France Galop, yet the BHA told Atzeni and his agent that the ban wouldn’t apply to Champions Day at Ascot, and Atzeni was therefore declared to ride.
But then France Galop informed the BHA that the ban could not be lifted under the recognition of international disciplinary procedures and the BHA had to tell Atzeni that he couldn’t ride at Ascot after all.
Not for the first time the comment was aired that when jockeys make mistakes they get fined and/or suspended, but when the BHA gets it wrong it issues an apology.
Earlier in the month the BHA was apologising for the withdrawal of the wrong horse from a race. In a £25,000 contest at Nottingham, a horse called Operative went down in the stalls and after several minutes handlers eventually freed him uninjured.
An announcement should have been made that Operative had been withdrawn, but instead it was wrongly stated that another runner, Magic Pulse, was a non-runner.
The error was spotted and a correction was announced that Operative, and not Magic Pulse, wouldn’t be taking part. But as the incorrect non-runner announcement had been widely circulated with a potential impact on the betting market, neither horse took part.
Magic Pulse’s owner Craig Buckingham was left fuming and threatened to move some of his string to France. The BHA apologised
If not apologising, the BHA has had to do some defending, and has also been on the offensive.
It was to be the subject of a debate about racehorse welfare after an e-petition, organised by animal rights group Animal Aid and which garnered 100,000 signatures, called upon the government to take equine welfare away from the BHA and put it in the hands of a new, independent body.
Ahead of the debate of MPs in Westminster Hall, the BHA was at odds with the former Liberal Democrats leader and now their spokesman on rural affairs and farming, Tim Farron, whose party is in favour of such a move. “The job of the BHA is to promote the sport,” he said last Sunday. “Horse welfare is only part of their work. It won’t ever be a priority unless there is a widespread problem among the horses. An independent regulatory body would have horse welfare at the forefront of its thinking without interfering in the authority’s task of hyping the sport.”
In response the BHA said Farron had “misunderstood” the authority’s role.
“The role of the BHA is to be the sport’s governing body and regulator with responsibility for, amongst other things, equine welfare,” said the BHA’s Robin Mounsey, indicating that it was Great British Racing which had the responsibility for marketing the sport.
That was being disingenuous to Farron.
Anyone who follows the BHA twitter account, @BHAPressOffice, which has over 33,000 followers, will see, as well as tweets about regulatory and welfare matters, a stream of social media messages promoting the sport.
These include retweeting messages from Great British Racing, or from ITV Racing with clips of big races, and from those commercially involved in the sport such as sponsors or promoters.
There can be no objection to these tweets; they put the sport in a good light, but they are most definitely an element in the sport’s promotion and it is wrong of the BHA to say that it is not involved in marketing.
In the debate itself, the BHA came in for a lot of criticism, some of it led by emotion and some of it based on ignorance.
From the opposition’s standpoint, a change was very much their way of thinking.
But whilst the government does not intend to separate the BHA from its responsibility of equine welfare, the support from those quarters was lukewarm.
There’s also a chill in the air coming from the direction of the Horseman’s’ Group, the body formed to represent breeders, jockeys, owners and trainers, and who fund the BHA.
They’ve been looking at whether or not the BHA in its current guise is fit for purpose. If they feel things need to change it could just be an exercise of moving the furniture around.
But there is no doubt that the BHA needs to up its game so that it stops having to say it’s sorry, and at the moment it must be feeling the heat.