BHA chair on why diversity needs to be at the heart of racing's recovery plan
It's great to be getting so much attention as the first major sport to return after the lockdown. Great to hear and see our jockeys and trainers on radio and television talking about how racing is returning safely, showing their passion and professionalism. Great, too, to see the big audience for ITV's coverage of the Guineas weekend and the skill with which it hit the right tone. I know Chepstow's return on Monday is eagerly awaited and look forward to Ayr the following week.
We needed the lift. It's been a long, hard slog for all in racing to develop and then implement the plans to resume. And that work continues. The BHA is carrying out hundreds of medical screening checks every day and I would like to thank trainers, racing and racecourse staff, and our jockeys for supplying accurate and timely information. Please keep that up as it takes a lot of effort when we need to fill in gaps or correct errors.
Our next priority is to get our owners back on course. Your commitment to the sport has kept us going. We thank you for that. The government guidelines on behind-closed-doors sport must be followed, but we are working hard to find a route to enable this. David Armstrong from the Racecourse Association and Dr Jerry Hill also attended a meeting with government and public health officials this week to discuss the return of spectators, a much bigger challenge, but one that will help our fans and finances.
We've always done well to promote racedays as a unique social occasion, combining sporting drama with fun and entertainment, which is why the current situation hits us so hard. We don't know how long social distancing will be with us, but realistically the days of crowded hospitality areas and bustling enclosures may take time to come back. This gap has caused a huge dent in the industry's revenues, though the return of betting shops on Monday will help.
We should take this opportunity of an enforced gap in people's social and sporting calendar – which will appear even more stark next week at Royal Ascot – to engage new audiences in the racing itself, as punters, horse-lovers or both.
We should not just assume the traditional crowds will come back strongly straight away. We don't know how this crisis will change customer behaviour. So we must continue the good work of racecourses and Great British Racing to attract the next generation of racing fans.
It is also right to consider and respond to the major social issues of our time, whether that's environmental sustainability or, most pressing, the explosion of anger in the United States and here following the killing of George Floyd.
Racing here is often seen as a sport that is predominantly white and privileged, particularly in its leadership and audience. Of course, there are many cultures and ethnicities represented in our yards, studs and racecourses and we know that we attract people from all socio-economic backgrounds. There's good work going on to make racing more inclusive, as we saw at the Lycett Awards this week.
However, it goes without saying that we would be a better, stronger and more sustainable sport if we attracted a more diverse audience and a workforce that better represented the make-up of our population. And as a sport that believes in giving competitors an equal and fair chance, it's about living those values and doing the right thing.
I am glad that Josh Apiafi made this point on Sky Sports last week and I was dismayed by some of the negative responses. These conversations are not easy to understand, particularly for those of us who have not suffered the daily prejudices that those from black communities, in particular, face.
Nick Rust set up the Diversity in Racing Steering Group three years ago. It's done much to highlight the issues we face. Thanks to all those on it who developed a plan to help racing to look and feel more like the modern Britain we aspire to engage.
I know people across racing, seeing statues being torn down or removed, are asking themselves, 'how should we respond to this?'. Be assured, we'll be judged by what we all do, not by what we say, and we must do more. The BHA will share its latest action plan as soon as we can.
One thing does stand out from my experience. It's the responsibility of all of us to encourage more black, Asian, and ethnic minority people to work in our sport, especially as leaders, by proactively engaging with and learning from them. Each of us must ensure our behaviours and organisational systems are welcoming, respectful and fair, and that we recognise and respond to racism or discrimination, wherever it exists.
Racing's recovery is not about turning the clock back to March 17. It's about seizing the moment to move forward. We want racing and our horses to be at the centre of national life and we know our sport brings people together like no other. That confers a big responsibility on us. To give a lead. Show what we stand for. Let's put that at the heart of our planning for recovery, come back stronger and achieve the prosperous and sustainable future we all desire.
Annamarie Phelps is chair of the British Horseracing Authority
More great reads here
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com