Harman crisis: Horsemen's chairman Freedman urges fundamental review of BHA
Senior British racing industry figure Philip Freedman has said there is a need for a fundamental review of the BHA as the shockwaves of the potential ousting of the governing body's chairman Steve Harman hit the sport.
Harman's position is in peril after a breakdown of his relationship with a number of board members, but the current crisis has been precipitated by an investigation into allegations Harman had a conflict of interest when he hosted Alex Frost, the chief executive of the Alizeti consortium that is set to invest in the Tote, at the Cheltenham Festival.
In turn they have led to discussions over whether Harman had acted in a manner that brought racing into disrepute. Harman has robustly denied any wrongdoing.
The BHA board met on Wednesday to discuss the issue and will reconvene next week.
The governing body has kept tight-lipped about events, saying it is following due process after a complaint over a matter of conduct involving one of its own people.
However, the shareholders of the BHA – the Racecourse Association, Racehorse Owners Association, Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and licensed personnel representing trainers, jockeys and stable staff – are angry that they have been kept in the dark about developments on the governing body's board.
It is understood they have asked to be supplied with more details.
Freedman, the chairman of the Horsemen's Group, said there was support for Harman across the sport, and added: "There is a real issue of whether this should be a matter solely for the BHA board or should involve the shareholders.
"Any reference to the shareholders has come about entirely at the instigation of the shareholders. If it had been left to the BHA I believe decisions would have been made and the shareholders would have been told afterwards."
Freedman said he took "real exception" to the suggestion this was solely a matter for the BHA board.
"If we were talking about a body that had a purely regulatory role then of course it should be completely independent from the shareholders and we would have no right to have any say over it," Freedman added. "But it is because of its governance role that I think the issue does become much more complex and I think there needs to be a fundamental review of the BHA.
"Let's get regulation and governance separated so you can have a completely independent regulatory body. Horsemen and racecourses have a real interest in the governance of the sport and we are not prepared to be told it is nothing to do with us."
John Gosden has already voiced his support for Harman and on Thursday was backed by fellow leading trainer William Haggas.
He said: "All I can say is that I've been a big fan of Steve's since his stewardship began and I think what he has done, particularly with government, has been leagues clear of anything anyone else has done in that department.
"I find it tragic that it has got to this stage. If Steve is fired or resigns I think the board has got a lot to answer to. I feel extremely strongly about it.
"What the industry doesn't need at this moment in time is instability and chaos and these actions are causing both."
York racecourse chairman Teddy Grimthorpe was another who wanted more detail of what had been happening at the BHA.
"I would very much like to know more details, as would many people," he said. "The great success of Steve Harman's chairmanship has been his engaging with all ranks of the political scale, which had been sadly lacking. To have this undermined is disconcerting, to say the least."
In a letter to the Racing Post the BHA claimed the Post's report of "civil war" at the BHA was "incomplete and partial".
However, it added: "We cannot, however, correct specific inaccuracies or provide the details of a complaint without compromising confidentiality. We will continue to follow due process."
The BHA added the board was "committed to act in the best interests of British racing and to discharge their duties fairly and professionally, not 'at war' as your report wrongly suggested".
No good outcome for racing from BHA crisis
How has it come to this? It is a question being asked across British racing as the sport witnesses a breakdown in the relationship between the BHA chairman and his board.
A board, remember, largely picked by Harman with great fanfare as a major step forward for the BHA.
How has what was a seemingly minor issue – Harman meeting with a person who, although in opposition to the racecourses' plan to launch their own pool betting project, was willing to invest millions into the sport – escalated so quickly into the BHA chairman's position hanging by a thread?
There is no good result for British racing from this, only the least bad.
If Harman stays several members of his board would no doubt resign, but if Harman goes relationships between stakeholders in the sport could be severely damaged.
Having enjoyed a period of unity the sport might descend to the bad old days of internecine warfare.
The BHA says its board is not at war, but the potential ousting of a chairman who has absolutely no intention of quietly walking away is hardly an example of peace and harmony.
A corporate governance review is currently being carried out at the BHA. As Philip Freedman has said, it would seem a fundamental review is sorely needed.
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