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Racecourse steward urges BHA not to lose independence of volunteer officials

A steward watches the action from the officials' box on Newmarket's July course
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Racecourse steward Charlie Lane has urged the BHA to introduce change "organically" as the sport's regulator continues the consultation process that could end in volunteer officials being replaced by professionals.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust and senior colleagues will on Friday be in Newcastle for the latest industry forum designed to foster open discussion with stakeholders.

In October the BHA's honorary stewards submitted their collective response to the consultation, concluding they wanted to maintain their involvement in a future stewarding model "in a way that is both accountable and independent".

A cautious but supportive tone ran through that document, and also through the comments given on Wednesday by Lane, who attended the forum held last week in Cheltenham.

Nick Rust has been speaking at the stewarding forums

Lane, who was on duty at Wincanton last Saturday, said: "This got off to a slightly shaky start when we were first told of huge change in the summer, but I think the BHA and Nick Rust have throttled back. They aren't changing direction totally but have taken on board that a steadier process is needed.

"It was also pleasing at the Cheltenham meeting to see support from senior figures in the National Trainers Federation, Professional Jockeys Association and Racecourse Association all saying they are reasonably happy with the current system.

"It was also good to see Nick Rust taking ownership. He spoke very well and I think he has a reasonably good handle on this now. However, if you're going to change anything you have to identify the problem with the current system. Nick hasn't yet made it clear to me what that current problem is.

"That doesn't mean I'm saying we don't need to change anything. However, any system that regulates a sport and is there to maintain integrity needs to be one that provides checks and balances. No matter what system you're talking about, such checks and balances are normally provided by an independent element."

Lane added: "During the Cheltenham meeting we looked at specific incidences that needed improving or showed where we are weak. Often, though, the system coped with how we should do things. It was rather that a person hadn't got it right on the day.

"From a stewarding point of view, we could all benefit from better training. We need to identify where people are weak, and areas where we need more information. That doesn't just apply to honorary stewards but everyone in the sport. It's amazing how often jockeys and trainers don't understand the system they work within.

"The honorary stewards we have now are not amateurs by any means. They may well have been 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, but not now. They have significant experience of regulation, integrity and checks and balances from their own working lives. I think it would be unwise to discard this knowledge and independence."

Clerk of the course George Hill in the stewards' box at Brighton

In the BHA correspondence sent to those invited to the forums, stakeholders were told: "There have also been questions raised – and several incidents in recent months – which require further clarity on the responsibilities of those administering and regulating the conduct of the race meeting. While not the focus of the current consultation process, we believe that these matters will also merit further consideration in due course."

In terms of the wider stewarding consultation, Lane believes a measured response is needed.

"It will be really important not to push this through too fast," he said.

"Changes have to be made organically. At the same time this process has created impetus we don't want to lose.

"We're not saying nothing is wrong. We have to change things, but let's do it in a slow, steady, ordered way, so we end up with useful improvements."

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We're not saying nothing is wrong. We have to change things, but let's do it in a slow, steady, ordered way
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