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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Steve Harman to step down as BHA chairman to take new role

BHA chairman Steve Harman is to step down later this year
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BHA chairman Steve Harman is to step down from his post in November but is to retain a role in the sport after a compromise deal was agreed to end the crisis that has beset British racing's governing body.

The news brings to an end increasing speculation over Harman's future after the BHA board investigated accusations he had a conflict of interest over his contact with Alex Frost, the chief executive of the Alizeti consortium that is investing in the Tote, at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Harman is to work as a consultant on racing's behalf with Westminster, developing the levy to counter the threat to racing's finances caused by the government's decision to cut FOBT stakes to £2.

He said on Tuesday: "This is the single biggest issue facing our industry and I welcome the opportunity to galvanise support to get the best possible deal for horseracing.

"This could mean a further reform of the levy to capture overseas betting and other changes we could seek to ensure the funding of racing is secured for the future."

Inconsistencies in Harman's explanation of events at Cheltenham were at the heart of the board's actions that threatened to bring a sudden end to his chairmanship, although it is thought there have been simmering tensions between the chairman and some board members for some time.

A number of leading figures within British racing stepped in to defend Harman when it appeared his position was under threat and the announcement of his new role means a compromise was reached.

Harman, whose second three-year term as chairman was due to end next year, robustly denied any wrongdoing and received strong support from many key members of the British racing industry.

He also received a vote of confidence from culture secretary Matt Hancock last week, with the minister saying he looked forward to working with Harman "for a long time to come".

Matt Hancock: gave Harman a vote of confidence last week

The BHA board had been discussing whether Harman had brought the body into disrepute under article 51 of its articles of association, but that has now been "set aside", the governing body said.

Harman has apologised "for inaccuracies in his initial explanations to the board", the BHA went on, adding that an independent review it had carried out concluded that there had been no conflict of interest.

A BHA spokesman said: "We are pleased this matter has now been closed and we can focus on the BHA's core responsibilities of the regulation and governance of British racing."

Philip Freedman: Harman's new role is crucial for British racing's future

Horsemen's Group chairman Philip Freedman and Arena Racing Company chief executive Martin Cruddace were instrumental in negotiating a way out of the crisis in which the BHA found itself.

Freedman said Harman's new role was crucial for British racing's future and spoke of the relief many within the sport would feel that he was still involved.

He said: "Those on whom the industry depends for funding, be they its investors or the secretary of state, recognise the part Steve has played in securing levy reform that has seen racing’s statutory income increase from £50 million in 2017 to £95m in 2018.

"He is therefore the right man to continue leading the drive for racing’s future. Steve should be proud of what he continues to achieve at the BHA and I am delighted he has agreed to focus significant time on the next stage of levy reform.

"It is a great relief to all those whose livelihoods depend on racing that this has not been jeopardised by a disproportionate response to the relatively minor matters being investigated."

Martin Cruddace: "It would be an incredible own goal were we to lose Steve’s considerable experience, skill and diplomacy"

Cruddace mirrored Freedman's comments about the importance of Harman's continuing influence.

"We are delighted that Steve has accepted this vital role," he said. "As we, in all probability, face very real imminent funding challenges in a fast-moving political landscape, it would be an incredible own goal were we to lose Steve’s considerable experience, skill and diplomacy, which are supported by an impeccable record of delivery.

"We are very grateful to him and the BHA board for putting our sport first and we look forward to supporting Steve and the board in any we can."

Harman is widely recognised as having been instrumental in bringing about a sea change in racing's relationship with government, which bore fruit with the reforms to the levy system brought in last year.

With further changes being mooted in the levy system following the government's decision to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2, continuing good relations with Westminster is seen as vital within the sport.

It was also revealed at Cheltenham in March that Harman and Hancock had been in discussions about a review of the recruitment, retention, development and wellbeing of stable staff.

The BHA said the process of recruiting a new chairman would begin shortly.

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This is the single biggest issue facing our industry and I welcome the opportunity to galvanise support to get the best possible deal for horseracing
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