Horse racing is a predominantly white sport which is struggling to diversify its ethnic demographic. The Black Lives Matter movement has been at the fore front of all our minds in recent weeks and it is important to reflect on the stereotypes that surround racing and make it a more diverse and inclusive place.
In terms of diversity, there is a real lack of BAME representation in racing. The sport is missing BAME role models in jockeys, trainers and leaders and I believe these could make the sport more aspirational and accessible to young black and ethnic minority people.
I can’t fault the British Horseracing Authority for the way they look after the horses and the industry workforce, they are exceptional, but I believe problems with diversity can often stem from the top. In the 20 leaders and executives of the BHA, there isn’t one BAME representative member. I believe increasing the number of BAME representatives in the sport can only have a positive impact on the system as a whole and someone’s ability to feel included and welcomed.
The BHA believes racing is a sport for everyone and it is working hard to try and diversify. In 2017, their Chief Executive, Nick Rust, set up the Diversity in Racing Steering Group to address and promote greater inclusion in British racing. The organisation completes action plans to improve diversity and opportunities within the sport.
The Diversity in Racing Steering Group focuses on reaching out to more culturally and ethnically diverse audiences to ensure the next generation of racing fans are able to have the opportunity to interact with horses, in particular in urban environments.
According to the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation, the number of female British Muslim jockeys – past and present – is in “single digits”. Khadijah Mellah was the first hijab wearing jockey to race in Britain and won the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood last year. She has admitted to feeling out of her element at the races, with it having a strange intensity for her family and culture.
“When I rode out in Newmarket I tried to spot any other women of colour and there was only one in more than 200 riders,” said Mellah.
“I went racing several times with my mum. It’s not an atmosphere I felt comfortable in at first. But going just with my family was very difficult. My mum was completely out of her comfort zone, being around laddish groups of rowdy drunk people,” Mellah told the Guardian.
The stereotypical horse racing viewer would appear to be white men gambling in the sport, whether they are propping up a bookies counter with a blue pen behind the ear or studying the form guide while sipping on a beer in the hospitality tent. But, this doesn’t appear to be the case anymore as the BHA state racing is the second most attended sport in Great Britain, with a 40:60 female to male gender split. The sport is also built on the unique platform where all genders compete equally.
The stereotype today, however, is still that of an expensive day out, participants in fancy dress drink, smoke and gamble in large groups, which could be creating a barrier for diverse groups to be attracted to the racecourse.
There needs to be more BAME role models in the sport and race days need to appeal to everyone. I also believe if race days were more inclusive and informative and audiences understood the sport as a whole, including form and handicaps, then I think more people may feel they could attend. One idea could be information boards at racecourses to help people learn. Additionally, I think people need a realistic experience, an enjoyable day out, an encounter with a horse or a special experience to make them want to return.
There is good work being carried out to make racing more inclusive, but it goes without saying that this needs to be improved. The future of racing requires diverse groups at the racecourse, and it is down to the over-seeing bodies to ensure this happens.