At the industry awards night, horse racing was told to diversify, after 90 per cent of nominees were white.
Nick Rust, chief of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) motioned that the sport needed to question its ‘unconscious bias’ when presenting his speech to the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards in London this week.
265 nominations were cast, of which 9 in 10 were from a white British or Irish heritage. The votes were cast from the 6,000 professional breeders and racers in Britain’s horse racing business.
The figures were criticised by Rust, according to Racing Post, for what ‘lies behind this selectivity’ so we can ‘ensure far better representation across the various minority groups in future years’.
Perhaps it was mere lip-service given the pressures across sports and public events to be witnessed as accommodating, non-discriminatory and diverse. Rust’s further commentary would suggest this to be the case as he announced to guests the formation of ‘diversity in racing steering group’ that will challenge the biases whether ‘conscious or unconscious within our industry, when it comes to issues such as gender, race or disability.’
His remarks conveniently mask the heritage of horse-racing, the high sunk costs for entry into the industry even at junior level for young riders, and perhaps the 87.17 per cent recorded white demography from the 2011 census for the UK.
Culture secretary Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, was an invitational speaker at the event, paying thanks on behalf of Her Majesty’s government to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, leader of UAE and Ruler of Dubai for sponsoring the awards ceremony.
Hancock was pressured in 2017 to address diversity of white, able-bodied males among staff in UK-based charities, sports, media, digital and culture in his Role as Secretary of State for Culture.
His fondness of affirmative action became notably apparent in 2014 for granting £4 million to Creative Access for exclusively non-whites. Creative Access offers paid internships and training opportunities in Britain’s best media organisations.
His intervention into the world of horse racing, however, could not be more out of touch. Racism is racism, whichever side of the wall you stand, and you don’t get a free ticket to start changing social trends that are not innately part of a group or region’s culture on noble high grounds of social justice and equality. Taken another way, how would British rap music take whites intervening and demanding fairer representation of their colour under cries that ‘rap music is too black’? Or American pro sports like the NBA, in proposing we need fewer Stephen Curries and LeBron James and more John Reddicks. Once precedents like this have been set in motion, it becomes hard to rein them in.
According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NBA was 74.3 percent black during the 2015-16 season and 81.7 percent were people of colour. The study said that the NBA was 18.3 percent white last season, which was 5 percent less than the season before. That 5 per cent decline in a sport where ethnic minorities lost out would make headline news, but because of ‘white privilege’ I suppose this is a fair crack of the whip since the NBA was all white in its inauguration 70 years ago.
Chandler Parsons, a white Memphis Grizzlies NBA forward, told the Undefeated ‘we play basketball because we play basketball. We don’t see colour when we’re playing basketball. It’s about competing, camaraderie and having the ultimate goal of winning a championship.’ For him, and many others, it is about sheer talent that grants you the respect of the players and basketball community, and so it should be with horse racing; not meeting some unjustified diversity quota that a greasy politician is pandering to win favour.
Indeed, horse-racing has long been a preserve of the white and well-to-do. This has fed into a culture of riding schools for white families for their young sons and daughters, from which significant saddle time needs to be accrued by the age of 16 for racing academy entrance.
It’s a highly competitive industry from mental well-being advisers, to nutritionist, physios and equine racing experts and trainers. Jockeys rarely exceed 115 pounds and are often under this. Their bodies take a battering with great core integrity that lends them pound for pound to be some of the strongest athletes on earth.
The lifestyle is one of intense passion, commitment and rough living. Most jockeys don’t earn much, are peripatetic in their working lifestyle as independent contractors in the absence of mentors.
Like any competitive industry, it’s a sizeable risk. Riding race horses is a dangerous business and the rewards at the top are reflective of such. All jockeys are injured during their careers, while aches and pains are par for the course. This overlooks the possibility for permanent disability or a fatal fall or trample while on the job.
Collectively, these lend themselves to a very specific and enthusiastic, to the point of fervent, community. Biases and preconceptions are naturally afoot in such territory, but then so is not speaking Spanish while on the international circuit. This is decades and centuries of cultural obsession that has brought us to this status quo. To change it all overnight would be prescriptive and dismissive of white culture in its entirety. I rest my case.
As for Mr Hancock, your obligations to equal opportunity and diversity are extensive, however, this does not grant you carte blanche to start reorganising social fabrics of communities like horse racing unless the same applies to black-appropriate rap culture, or Jamaican reggae culture or pro-sports like basketball which have an underrepresentation of whites. You are under a noblesse oblige, otherwise known as a privilege entails responsibility to fulfil your social responsibilities to all, and not perpetuate affirmative action to please a vocal minority as it suits your latest popularity figures at the deliberate expense of other social spheres as though they were irrelevant.
Richard Bolton is Editor-in-chief of The Manchester Magazine. He is in his final year at The University of Manchester, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics