Mature debate is needed on whip issue as emotions continue to run high
The Thursday column
Most of the reaction to what we produce in the Racing Post can be fairly accurately predicted, but one glaring exception is the way in which so many hackles are raised when it is suggested the whip be banned for reasons other than safety.
This has happened twice in this organ during the last nine months, first when colleague Tom Kerr suggested racing should look to life without the whip in the face of what he anticipated to be mounting objection to it from the general public, and then again last week when Paul Jacobs, the owner of Limato, broadly echoed Tom’s views.
On both occasions there was uproar in certain quarters, a disproportionate hysteria one might have expected if it had been suggested jockeys started whipping horses as opposed to stopping doing so.
The furious backlash is a bizarre response to a perfectly valid suggestion. We have seen the pickle the betting industry has got itself into by being so slow to regulate FOBTs that it is now having regulation forced upon it, and racing should not be so prickly when it comes to examining the pros and cons of banning the whip for any purpose other than ensuring wayward horses stay straight.
There was similar opposition from many people to the plan to make the Grand National safer but that resistance now looks ill-judged given how much safer the event has become while maintaining its status as the most exciting race in the world.
Unlike with the National, there is no welfare issue with the whip. There is one knocking around our office and anyone who has given it a swish will know you could barely wake up a sleeping kitten with it let alone do it any harm.
But that’s not the point, even though some defenders of the persuader think it is. It’s all about image and perception.
The general public don’t like to see horses being hit with the whip and that’s perfectly understandable. It is claimed by some people that the BHA should lead a campaign to educate people that the whip doesn’t hurt, with suggestions of stalls at courses that offer racegoers the chance to thrash themselves or friends on the hand to see just how little harm it can do.
But while that might send the right message to a small fraction of the population, the educational task is an enormous one that would only get some traction if two members of the Slater family started larruping one another with a jockey’s stick in an episode of EastEnders, which is never going to happen.
And besides, that then prompts a second educational necessity when people say: “Okay, so if it doesn’t hurt, why use it?” It is at this point that those who energetically defend the need for the whip start to flounder.
My view on the whip is this: it has been neutralised in a commendable and drastic way since the version I saw leave marks in the winner's enclosure when I started going racing many decades ago. I am convinced it doesn’t hurt horses.
More by Bruce Millington
But when I watch hands-and-heels races I see perfectly authentic-looking contests and it makes me question the point of the whip.
And when I hear people say they don’t like racing because they don’t like the whip it makes me wonder whether the sport is inflicting an unnecessary PR wound by at least failing to examine whether it can operate just fine without horses being struck to make them go faster.
If a comprehensive study, taking in expert advice as well as feedback from people who might one day become valued racing fans and punters, concludes racing does indeed need to keep the whip, that’s absolutely fine by me.
But it would be a great shame if this brilliant sport’s popularity were being limited because it continued to use as a tool of its trade something that was proved to be dispensable.
Those on both sides of this issue want what is best for racing so it’s a debate that deserves to be conducted maturely, harmoniously and without fear or rancour.
Aussies scuff up cricket's veneer of fair play
Danny Baker has a theory that dry cleaning is a con and that they don’t actually do anything with your clothes apart from charge you £12, tell you to come back for them on Thursday and then put them in a thin sheet of transparent polythene.
I used to have a similar opinion regarding the stuff cricketers do to the ball between deliveries. Whatever messing about takes place, however much spit is applied to it and however vigorously one side is rubbed against mid-on’s groin, I was convinced it didn’t actually do anything.
But then the PE teacher explained the theory. You shine one side of the ball so that when the bowler sends it down the track with the seam in a vertical position, the shiny side and the rough side move at different speeds through the air due to friction, causing the ball to swing.
So when I started playing the game I felt duty bound to give it a go when the ball made its way from wicky’s gloves to bowler’s hands, via slip, gully and whoever else fancied a catch just to relieve the boredom of fielding.
But I was still convinced, particularly at village-green level, that basically it was just something to do.
The cricket ball is the most outdated piece of equipment in all of sport, composed as it is of a cork centre wrapped up by leather that is then treated in such a way that it turns into a granite sphere. A fairly sophisticated plastics industry has evolved since the first cricket ball was created and the game needs to lean on it so it can produce something more suitable to the 21st century, not least so the ball cannot be manipulated by fielders in that weird fashion.
It should be made of materials that don’t require it to be replaced every 80 overs and is a bit softer so young players don’t find the game off-putting and clubs and parents don’t have to splash out fortunes on white armour.
And most of all it should be replaced so that ludicrous Australians cannot do anything that genuinely does affect its trajectory in an illegal manner, as they did in South Africa last week in an incident that has caused an excessive reaction but does at least further erode the myth that cricket is an honourable sport.
“Cricket is synonymous with fair play.” That was the gobsmacked reaction of Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, sounding like a child who had just experienced nastiness for the first time in his life when a big kid wouldn’t let him go on the slide.
But the fact is that cricket has long since lost that link to good sportsmanship. Players cheat all the time. They appeal when they know it’s not out and they refuse to walk when they know it’s out.
They snarl at one another in a way that looks pretty silly really since we all know they are almost entirely well brought-up lads, and their pathetic insults are glorified under the banner of sledging when any other athletes acting so stupidly would be told to shut up and get on with it.
There has, of course, been a monumentally excessive reaction to what the Aussies did in South Africa, but if any good is to come out of the incident it is hoped that people stop kidding themselves that cricket is not this haven for the last remaining semblance of sporting courtesy and fairness but is actually capable of being every bit as vile and vicious as any other activity you could mention.
Bridge louts set for troubled waters in Russia
It is almost unheard of these days for the media to underplay a story, but that’s exactly what they did last week when 100 England fans were arrested following widespread disorder in Amsterdam last Friday.
A hundred! That’s a massive number – one that, allied to some depressing footage shot on mobiles and posted on the internet, suggests it was a pretty appalling chapter in the woeful history of England fandom.
Yet it was given surprisingly little media coverage, which is as puzzling as it is disappointing.
It was particularly demoralising to see a video of a bunch of despicable morons chucking beer over a group of tourists as the boat they were on went under a bridge that had been taken over by imbecilic Three Lions followers.
A bicycle followed the lager into the water once the boat had departed to rapturous cheers from pea-brained mugs who clearly find the idea of a stranger’s bike being lobbed into a canal the height of great entertainment.
No doubt many of the same losers who helped embarrass those of us who find such antisocial behaviour so repulsive will be among the first to start crying this summer if and when they find a group of Russian hooligans more of a handful than a boatful of innocent tourists, as was the case in France two years ago.
I hope those genuine football fans who go to Russia to support Gareth Southgate’s team have a great trip and feel perfectly safe at all times.
I’m significantly less fussed about what happens to those who want to repeat the abysmal scenes in Amsterdam.
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