British Horseracing Authority: Interview with Annamarie Phelps, Chair
Annamarie Phelps discusses how the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) is driving a range of initiatives through the “Industry Commitment” to ensure that racing becomes more diverse, accessible and supportive to all.
How has the “Industry Commitment” evolved?
The Commitment has been driven by the Diversity & Inclusion in Racing Steering Group. Set up in 2017, by Nick Rust, then CEO of the BHA, it is now led by an independent Chair, Susannah Gill, which helps it reach across all the representative bodies of the industry: owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff and breeders as well as our 59 racecourses and the BHA as the governing body.
The Group’s existence is a statement of recognition that racing needs to ensure it is inclusive – looking after the health and well-being of those already working in the sport, whatever their background – and a statement of intent, recognising the need to look outside the sport to encourage communities traditionally underrepresented across the industry to consider racing. The mental health and well-being of our equine and human participants is a critical part of the health, success and sustainability of the racing industry at all levels; the last year and the impact of the pandemic has certainly brought this into sharp focus.
The Group have initiated research and led campaigns, such as recognising the role of women across the industry, promoting advocates and support for our LGBTQ+ community
The Group have initiated research and led campaigns, such as recognising the role of women across the industry, promoting advocates and support for our LGBTQ+ community and of course coordinating the Industry Commitment which for the first time sees the entire industry come together to say diversity, in all its guises, matters. The Commitment recognises that positive actions need to take place across each part of the industry and includes a public commitment from all eight signatories, agreed by each of their Boards, to address gender balance, better understand the diversity across each part of the sport, and to listen to those from minority communities to understand how we can provide an environment in which they can be their best selves.
The death of George Floyd, the BLM movement and the reaction from some of our supporters and participants, and towards them when they raised their heads above the parapet, was certainly a catalyst. In the wake of that tragedy, we realised that although we had addressed a number of areas of diversity, the industry needed to look across the whole gamut and particularly to embrace those from black and minority ethnic communities and understand better their experiences in and perceptions of horseracing. The last year has certainly seen the industry leaders focussed on what positive actions each of the eight organisations need to take to ensure that progress is sustainable and meaningful.
How can all stakeholders within British Racing collaborate to attract new and diverse audiences in all aspects of the racing industry?
The pandemic has had a major impact on racing and its income, as it has for many industries and sports. But it has also given us an opportunity to try new things, to reassess priorities and to re-think our approach to diversity and inclusion initiatives, especially where these help with lifestyle and well-being for our participants and workforce. The Industry Commitment provides us with a strategic framework to work together to address areas that are key for each stakeholder group. So, whilst a more diverse representation at Board level is key for everyone, each organisation has identified specific areas that it needs to address.
Each Board has appointed a Board Champion who will ensure that D&I is a regular part of Board consideration and embedded in decision making, and who can hold their executive to account in this area to ensure they are providing an inclusive environment for those it represents or serves. Our trainers’ stable yards are probably the most racially inclusive part of the sport attracting expert staff from across the world and in particular from South Asia. Although stable staff are celebrated at the annual Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards and diversity is now embedded in the National Trainers Federation’s Lycetts Awards, these workers are not as visible outside the industry, so we need to work harder to promote the welcome racing gives to everyone and to help those from minority ethnic communities to progress in their roles in the industry.
Each Board has appointed a Board Champion who will ensure that D&I is a regular part of Board consideration… and who can hold their executive to account in this area to ensure they are providing an inclusive environment
Attracting a more diverse population of race goers and a happy, healthy and diverse workforce is a key strand to building back better and stronger, to cementing our relationship with new fans who have watched racing on TV during lock-downs and a central part of the solution to open up racing to a new audience, that simply makes financial sense.
The successes of Rachael Blackmore and Hollie Doyle have been the subject of many “good news” stories over the last 12 months. How does racing capitalise on this and encourage a greater gender balance competing at the very highest levels?
We have seen some amazing performances from female jockeys over the last year and it does feel that there is real momentum. Hollie, Bryony (Frost) and Rachael are fantastic role models and really accessible, lovely people. They are doing their bit, but we also need to ensure there are sufficiently robust pathways for those coming up behind them, so that women winning in racing becomes a more regular occurrence. According to the British Equestrian Federation 85% of (non-racing) equestrian participants are female but only 17% of jockeys in racing are. Racing can certainly be nearer 50% and growing the number of successful female jockeys is important if racing is to benefit from the huge upsurge of interest in women’s sport and the fantastic profile that racing received when Hollie finished third in the 2020 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
85% of (non-racing) equestrian participants are female but only 17% of jockeys in racing are. Racing can certainly be nearer 50% and growing the number of successful female jockeys is important if racing is to benefit from the huge upsurge of interest in women’s sport.
Racing has always been a sport that men and women can compete alongside one another, however the opportunities available to female jockeys to access the best horses have often been limited by perceptions. As in many sports, female competitors have often been unfavourably compared to their male counterparts measuring physical strength rather than considering what women can uniquely bring to the race and the rise of female media presenters can help in telling the story here. There are also structural changes and investments racing can make – improving the female facilities at racecourses, for example, which have historically been something of an afterthought. All of our organisations will also be aware of the need to ensure that the workplace whether the stable yard, office, racecourse or weighing room is an inclusive place to be for everyone regardless of gender or background.
I’d also love to see more female trainers, as well as trainers from black and ethnic minority communities, and I am sure if we can attract wider audiences to the racecourses more people will want to work in the sport. We have been looking at how we can widen access and provide pathways; for example, opening up what was the BHA Graduate Programme to non-graduates with appropriate industry experience and re-naming it to try and attract applicants from a broader socio-economic base. Take the Reins and Step on Track are two other initiatives to help broaden the intake and Racing to School introduces school and college pupils to racing and the opportunities to work in the industry as well as offering curriculum-based learning. There are no end of initiatives working to introduce people to our fabulous thoroughbred athletes and to open up the sport at this level and the joint Commitment will ensure we are more strategic at identifying where there are barriers and gaps for particular parts of the population.
What would “success” look like for the Industry Commitment and how best can racing lead by example to other sports challenged by underrepresentation of diverse groups?
The Industry Commitment is a key strand of our Covid Recovery Plan. It is more than an attempt to recoup our losses and get back to where we were pre-pandemic. We want to be a thriving, prosperous industry, whose participants, workforce and fans are a true reflection of the make-up of the British population and that responsible corporates and influential leaders want to be associated with and invest in. It will be an industry that the nation understands it should be proud of, that it feels invested in and part of – for the care it shows its amazing equine athletes, its workforce and the precious environment it supports and protects at its yards, gallops and racecourses.
I would also hope we can encourage more people to get involved in championing inclusion so that change can be exponential. The racing community is great at giving people permission to champion change especially around inclusion: Go Green Racing is a charity set up by Debbie Matthews to help support mental health; Bobby Beevers brilliantly pulled together Autism in Racing, Khadijah Mellah and ITV’s Ollie Bell have lead the new Riding A Dream Academy aimed at supporting talented riders from under-represented communities, the list is impressive.
If you were asked to spend one afternoon on a racecourse, anywhere in the UK, which one would you choose and why?
That is the most impossible question whatever I say I’ll be on to a loser! There are 59 racecourses all around the country and each is individual in character, size, topography and atmosphere, some have been racecourses since the 1500s and others were founded in the 20th century. There isn’t one that I have visited that I wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon at again, but as Covid prevented me from visiting any last year I would feel compelled to choose one I haven’t been to yet.
I am very keen to get to some of the more ‘out of the way’ courses such as Ffos Las, Taunton and Perth but I am also keen to get to Cartmel for the summer jumping which sounds idyllic, and I hear the pies are very good at Pontefract!
Annamarie Phelps, Vice-Chair of the British Olympic Association and a former Olympic rower was appointed as the Chair of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in June 2019.
Annamarie is an experienced senior figure in British sport. She has worked for a variety of governing bodies dealing with complex political and regulatory issues and was the Chair of British Rowing. She chaired the independent review into British Cycling in 2017. Annamarie competed for Britain at the Atlanta Games in 1996 in the women’s eight and was a world champion in 1993.
Annamarie is a member of the Court of the Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames; and a Liveryman at Goldsmiths Company. She was awarded a CBE for services to rowing in 2016.