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MP urges racing to tackle political ignorance or face dire consequences

Conor McGinn MP fears the consequences of "widespread indifference" to racing at Westminster
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One of racing's staunchest supporters in parliament has warned there could be "dire consequences" if political indifference and ignorance of the sport are not tackled.

That powerful warning from Labour MP Conor McGinn was immediately seized upon by senior racing figures on Monday, including former BHA chairman Steve Harman, who described the understanding and support for the industry in both houses as "very strong".

BHA chief executive Nick Rust responded by stating his confidence in a new public affairs strategy to enhance the sport's voice in parliament.

McGinn, 34, writing in the Racing Post, said that ignorance of racing could turn into outright hostility if it was not addressed and called on the sport to speak with one voice in the face of external scrutiny.

He also warned of the "toxicity" surrounding gambling and the effect that could have on racing.

Last year MPs considered an e-petition calling for a new independent body to take over regulation of racehorse welfare from the BHA, while the government's plans to bring in the second stage of levy reform foundered when representatives from both houses of parliament objected.

Labour MP Conor McGinn: "My fear is that if we don?t address politicians? lack of interest and literacy, it could have dire consequences for our sport."
McGinn, joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing & Bloodstock and whose St Helens North constituency includes Haydock Park, wrote: "Sadly, most of my parliamentary colleagues have little regard for racing and even less experience of it.

"Worryingly, I get the sense that this widespread indifference could very easily metamorphose into hostility unless those of us who care about racing get our act together.

"Because at a time when racing is under intense scrutiny and faces many challenges, my fear is that if we don’t address politicians’ lack of interest and literacy, it could have dire consequences for our sport."

Steve Harman: believes the understanding and support for racing is very strong in Westminster
However, Harman, whose work in the political sphere helped bring about the first stage of levy reform, disagreed with McGinn about the sport's influence in Westminster.

He said: "The understanding and support for the racing industry in both houses is very strong. Racing's contribution to jobs, the economy, trade and small businesses is well known.

"However, racing does need to keep close to future gambling policy, which is currently targeting other segments and cohorts, and avoid any risk of conflation. And as stated previously, racing also needs to build its platform further on horse welfare."

McGinn said there was much hard work being done by racing's representatives but added that it was a "constant struggle to advance racing’s interests in the corridors of power".

He cited the example of the government's planned reforms which would have resulted in the abolition of the Levy Board and its replacement in part by a new Racing Authority, which were "eviscerated" by a committee of MPs and peers.

"That’s a shocking indictment of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s corporate failure to give Britain’s second biggest spectator sport the attention and support it merits and requires," he added.

While McGinn said racing had a duty to tackle problem gambling and should not be afraid to criticise bookmakers, he argued that the sport had to be "equally robust" in saying that a "responsible and well-regulated gambling is vital for racing’s viability – and we support it and the industry".

On welfare, McGinn claimed last year's debate showed there was a "small but vociferous lobby" whose ultimate aim was to get rid of racing altogether.

He said he had been disappointed so few pro-racing MPs had challenged criticism of the sport during that debate and called on racing to muster its supporters.

He went on: "The best way to challenge the myths is through sensible, evidence-based arguments, and most importantly by racing speaking with one voice on these issues."

BHA chief executive Nick Rust believes this is a time of opportunity for British racing
BHA chief executive Nick Rust responded to McGinn's comments by highlighting the sport had come together to agree a new public affairs strategy for 2019.

Rust said: "We thank Conor McGinn for his support of the industry across a number of policy issues, and as someone with whom we have worked closely in recent years in articulately and passionately representing racing’s cause in Westminster.

"We agree with Conor that there are several challenges which British racing must collectively face in parliament in the coming years, especially as public opinion continues to shift on issues including animal welfare and gambling.

"Racing speaking clearly to government, with one voice, has already delivered the significant reform of the levy in 2017, and the Members’ Committee has agreed proposals for our 2019 public affairs strategy, which will be driven by our industry-wide public affairs group.

"We believe that these will enhance British racing’s voice in parliament, working with existing and new allies across the political spectrum."

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Worryingly, I get the sense that this widespread indifference could very easily metamorphose into hostility
E.W. Terms