Despite the emphasis on public opinion in today’s BHA Review of whip use, racing would be a modern-day Canute in trying to turn the tide of public perception. Figures in today’s report showing how popular racing is (where did the 1 billion Global TV viewers a year come from?), fail to reflect reality – racing is way below the radar of the vast majority of Britons – and it probably always will be.
Quantifying in this survey doesn’t real tell us much. What does ‘not very interested’ mean? They might watch the National and nothing else?
‘Fairly interested’? Maybe watch the National and Royal Ascot? Or perhaps they bet once a week/month – who knows?
The survey, around which much of the decision-making seems to have revolved, has several weaknesses beyond those mentioned above. The first objective mentioned in the Background heading is:
Clearly gauge the full spectrum of views on whether whipping is perceived to be cruel, in particular quantifying the extent to which people’s views differ depending on the situation
It’s impossible to get a full spectrum from a self-selecting group who have pre-registered, are internet savvy, possibly inclined to be opinionated about many things, and are probably notably different demographically from racing’s main funder the betting shop punter (how many of those are registered with YouGov?)
45% of respondents had no interest in racing – perhaps that balance was perceived as being necessary when seeking general public opinion, I don’t know.
I’ve slated the authorities often enough, but if the horror views of the corpses of Dooney’s Gate and Ornais were not sufficient, when Jason Maguire jumped off an exhausted close-to-collapse winner, his whip still as hot as Ballabriggs, then many others dismounted to help a scurrying non-uniformed posse desperately hurl water on the ‘survivors’ of 4m 4f and 30 big fences in Mediterranean heat – watched by 9 million people – the BHA went 1.01 in my book to be forced into doing something dramatic. To have done nothing would have been the racing equivalent of the Murdochs ignoring the NOTW scandal.
The key for me was that, after the National, racing was close to losing the RSPCA – a terminal outcome if that happened, in my opinion.
We’ve ended up with a hotch-potch, no doubt, but it could never have been anything else. Public opinion, in reality, might mean little to racing, but it sure as hell means a lot to established animal welfare organisations.
The Grand National has changed many lives. The PR disaster that was the 2011 running has changed racing forever.