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12 June 2024

Opening the Gates: Why Horseracing Needs to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

The recently established Diversity in Racing Advisory Group (DiRAG) is an independent body providing strategic direction, advice and support to the industry to help progress diversity and inclusion.

Here, Christina Thakor-Rankin, Co-founder of the All-in Diversity Project and DiRAG member, shares her thoughts on why, and how, the horseracing industry needs to change.

Is tradition holding racing back?

Despite the Grand National continuing to be the single most popular (and populist) event in the UK sporting calendar, racing continues to be seen as something that remains the preserve of the wealthy and privileged – something to be enjoyed by the few rather than the many. 

Some of this is self-inflicted. A desire to hang on to tradition, stringent dress codes, associations with royalty – both local and global and a visible lack of diversity amongst its most important institutions are not helpful. 

Some of it is circumstantial. Having a racehorse is expensive, but so is going to the races. Going to the races is pretty much an all-day event, which combined with the cost of tickets, travel, refreshments, fancy frock/frockcoat and betting funds puts it beyond the means of many. Throw in a dwindling interest in animals for fun, and a lack of visible, relatable representation amongst racegoers, jockeys and owners as opposed to servers, stewards and hospitality staff and the obvious question is why would anyone who isn’t into horses, 80s popstars or attending a social event want to go racing?

At a time when the rest of the world, and sport in particular, is fighting to breakdown traditional social barriers and stereotypes in a bid to broaden its appeal to as wide an audience as possible, it remains a mystery why racing continues to foster a culture of exclusivity and a certain aloofness – especially given that attendances and revenues are as low as they have ever been. Racing needs more people to go racing, and if it doesn’t get them in, faces a future where many provincial racetracks will become nothing more than concert, conference or wedding venue.

Time for change

It doesn’t have to be this way though, and racing is waking up to the fact that it needs to do something – but it needs to do it quickly and in a way that is effective and has long-term impact. 

Diversity and inclusion are not just moral imperatives, they are essential drivers of innovation, growth, and success in any industry. 

By embracing a wider range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, the sport can tap into new ideas, insights, and approaches that can propel it forward. Just imagine the potential breakthroughs that could arise from a more diverse pool of trainers and veterinarians, each bringing unique cultural knowledge and perspectives on animal care and training methods. Or consider the fresh marketing and fan engagement strategies that could emerge from a more inclusive team of industry professionals, better equipped to resonate with diverse audiences. And just think what a new generation of owners, currently investing their money elsewhere, could do for the industry – both locally and globally.  

Grass roots initiatives

There is a huge amount of working being done at a grass roots level by organizations like the Riding a Dream Academy and the British Racing School seeking to create pathways and entry points for individuals from non-privileged backgrounds, Women in Racing and the Racing Media Academy working to create more inclusive workplaces and initiatives like Racing with Pride aiming to raise awareness, educate and engage new audiences. 

There are also any number of sub-groups either focused on DEI or linked to DEI in some way, – many of them have a 3-to-5-year strategy and very few seem to be focused on the public’s perception of the sport. This is a missed opportunity. As other sports have shown time again, the success of initiatives to attract and retain diversity internally will be dependent on how the industry is perceived externally – and vice versa. 

It is also dangerous. Time is not on racing’s side and 3 years is too long. Something needs to be done now, but multiple initiatives led by different groups will result in a lack of cohesion and conflicting and competing interests that will only serve to slow things down.

But all of this requires a unified approach that brings together all the various strands and initiatives under one industry-wide strategy that aligns people and performance and efforts to dismantle historical systemic barriers that have historically excluded marginalized communities. wider issue of reputation, risk and revenue. It requires access to resources, education, and mentorship opportunities, as well as tackling biases and discrimination. It requires authenticity. Most of all it requires leaders to step up and take ownership and accountability. It will only work if it is top down and bottom up. 

Attracting a broader range of fans, sponsors, and participants will help breathe new life and vitality into the industry in a way that will help secure its relevance and longevity for generations to come. 

Diversity in racing advisory group

And this is where DiRAG, racing’s new Diversity in Racing Advisory Group could really make a difference. As an independent group it could act as a sounding board but also take a more practical role in bringing the various strands and groups together under a unified industry strategy, ensuring the various initiatives complement rather than compete to achieve a common goal and are communicated clearly and consistently both internally and externally. 

Most importantly it could take an active role in objectively evaluating and progress and identifying measures of success, though meaningful analysis and assessment – as the famed management consultant and educator Peter Drucker once said, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it’.

And if it is to survive and stay relevant to future generations, racing really, really, does need to change it.

More details on the diversity and inclusion work being done in racing can found here.

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