Talk about timing your run… with the sport needing to land key messages with politicians like never before, the BHA’s new Head of Advocacy and Policy Victoria Morgan, outlines the challenges to protecting the future of British racing and broadening its appeal and global standing.
As a passionate fan of horseracing since my childhood in the 1990s, I have seen the sport face many ups and down over the years and feel privileged to be able to play a part – no matter how small – in ensuring our sport continues to thrive in the years to come.
In June, I was delighted to take up the role as Head of Policy & Advocacy at the British Horseracing Authority – a job that directly links our sport with political stakeholders. As a former graduate of the BHA’s Development Programme with a passion for racing, writing and politics, I felt it was time to put my knowledge gained over the years into practice! Having worked in the world of political consulting for over a decade – where I advised clients in numerous sectors – it was immediately clear how important it is for British Racing to have positive and constructive relationships with the very people who make decisions that affect the industry.
Political engagement a necessity
As the second-largest spectator sport in the country – only after football – British horseracing’s success is predominately down to its participants and fans. From the horses to the owners, trainers and jockeys; to stable staff, stud farm workers and stalls handlers, all the way to families enjoying a day out at the races and regular punters – horseracing in Britain is made possible by an intricate web of horses and people.
Yet, as with all other aspects of our lives, there is one group of people who have the ultimate power to change things, whether they be for the better or worse: politicians. Whether loved or loathed, political stakeholders are key to any sport, industry or sector. They ultimately make the big decisions that can have wide-ranging effects on people, their jobs and their families. They can be as large as major decisions on tax and government spending, or as small as minor legislative changes that impact how an organisation might be run. It’s why it’s crucial for any sport to communicate with political stakeholders.
Horseracing has been intrinsically linked with government decision-making for at least the last 60 years. The Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 made off-course betting legal, leading to the expansion of betting shops all over the country. Betting in those days was built on racing, and with the emergence of TV enabled fans to enjoy and bet on the sport in the comfort of their own homes. The Horserace Betting Levy, introduced a year later, ensured that racing benefited from a percentage of profits that bookmakers made on the sport. This not only cemented the symbiotic relationship between racing and betting, but crucially created a role for government in overseeing the implementation of the Levy. Ever since, the government has been responsible for reviewing the terms of the Levy and making the ultimate decision in how the rate is set when racing and betting have been unable to reach a deal.
Pendulum is swinging back
More recently, the liberalisation of gambling laws by government in 2005 and the digital revolution led to an increase in choice for bettors, more gambling advertising and sponsorship across all sports. This has since led to greater public concern around gambling-related harm, with pressure groups asking politicians to take action to reduce risk. The pendulum is now swinging back, with the current government reviewing existing legislation and proposing to introduce widespread affordability checks on bettors. Given the relationship between racing and betting as outlined above, it is clear why this is a threat to our sport.
Pictured: Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Cross Party Group on horseracing in the Welsh Senedd – with trainer Tim Vaughan (left) BHA Chair Joe Saumarez Smith and CEO Julie Harrington with Stuart Andrew, the Sports & Gambling Minister, at September’s Parliamentary reception (right)
It is not only government decisions relating to betting that impact racing. One current example is immigration policy: training yards and stud farms across Britain are facing issues recruiting highly-skilled staff, whether these are work riders or stallion handlers. A concerted effort by British Racing has led to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommending that six racing-related roles be added to the government’s Shortage Occupation List so that, as an interim measure, racing can continue to recruit specialist talent from overseas while we continue to upskill our home-grown workforce. Racing continues to press the Home Office to ensure that it accepts the MAC’s recommendation.
Positive lobbying from across racing
In addition to my own role, the BHA has a team of policy and advocacy experts who work with organisations across the sport – including The Jockey Club, ARC, The Racecourse Association, Great British Racing and others – to demonstrate to political stakeholders the value of British racing to the rural economy, our cultural landscape and Britain’s ‘soft power’ on the world stage. In building positive relationships with government, MPs and policy makers in Whitehall and the administrations in Scotland and Wales, our aim is not only to protect the future of British racing but broaden the sport’s appeal and global standing.
Perhaps the biggest societal pressure facing our sport is that of racehorse welfare. Again, the government is responsible for creating and implementing policies relating to animal welfare, and politicians of all stripes will have been acutely aware of the protests by Animal Rising earlier this year that disrupted the Grand National and threatened to disrupt the Derby. While British Racing reassures politicians continually that our approach to horse welfare is world-leading and ever-improving, we know that MPs and government ministers are lobbied by animal rights activists and others to intervene in racing and to regulate on the sport’s behalf.
It was reassuring that – with British Racing’s assistance – 19 MPs attended a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament in October to discuss the future of horseracing. While 19 MPs doesn’t sound like a large amount, the event was one of numerous debates, committees, Commons chamber business and receptions that day and the MPs in attendance were all key to the sport. These included Matt Hancock who led the debate and who represents Newmarket, the Minister for Sport and Gambling Stuart Andrew and his Shadow Minister, Stephanie Peacock. Laura Farris (Lambourn and Newbury racecourse), Nadhim Zahawi (former Chancellor representing Stratford-on-Avon) and Dr Neil Hudson (equine vet) also spoke in support of racing. This level of knowledge of, and support for, our sport in Parliament – and in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales – will continue to be crucial as racing faces external challenges in the shape of Levy reform, gambling regulation, animal welfare, migration and also macro-issues such as inflation and the cost of living.