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    The Obstacles Facing the Horse Racing Industry
The Obstacles Facing the Horse Racing Industry
Horse racing. Source: Midjourney

The Obstacles Facing the Horse Racing Industry

Horse racing, one of the world's oldest sports, remains entrenched in tradition. However, as it navigates its established framework and evolving rules and values, it becomes apparent that the industry is increasingly struggling to accustom, grow, and evolve. What are the primary assets and shortcomings facing the horse racing sector?

Animal Welfare in Horse Racing

The issue of animal rights has been debated for a long time. Pythagoras was among the early advocates in the 19th century. The UK's first animal protection law was enacted in 1822, and the SPCA was established in France in 1845. It wasn't until 1978 that the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights was announced at UNESCO.

The late 20th century was a turning point for horse racing. In the 1970s, the concept of equine ethics concept emerged in English-speaking countries, prompting philosophical discussions about the human treatment of horses. This involved examining breeding, care, sports use, and end-of-life decisions, all linked to respect and the horse's well-being. Critics argue against using horses for human entertainment, noting differences in perception highlighted by an Australian study by Iris M. Bergmann: industry professionals saw an excited horse's behaviour as normal, while animal activists viewed it as stress or pain, indicating unnatural conditions. They argue that horse racing, without considering the horse's nature, shows a lack of respect and harms their welfare.

The public often views horse racing as harsh. Lola Quitard, Director of the Conseil des Chevaux de Normandie, mentions the negative perception created by whips and training aids: "Explaining to children that whipping is not wrong would be challenging, even if justified. There wouldn't be enough time to explain and alter that image." Besides this violent image, issues like doping, early training of young horses, their confinement despite natural herd instincts, and racetrack deaths also damage the sport's image.

These factors contribute to a growing skepticism, driven by veganism and anti-speciesist demands. Olivier Delloye, CEO of France Galop since 2016, acknowledged this challenge: "This image is likely to become more problematic in the coming years. There is a huge issue concerning the well-being and the image of our sport from that perspective."

Jockey. Source: Midjourney
Jockey. Source: Midjourney

What can be done?

Stricter Regulations and Oversight

  • Enhanced Welfare Standards: Implement and enforce higher welfare standards for the breeding, training, and care of racehorses. Regular inspections and certifications can ensure compliance.
  • Independent Oversight: Establish independent regulatory bodies to oversee animal welfare, ensuring unbiased monitoring and enforcement of standards.

Better Training and Care Practices

  • Humane Training Methods: Promote training methods that prioritise the well-being of the horses, such as positive reinforcement techniques instead of coercive tools like whips.
  • Adequate Rest and Recovery: Ensure that horses receive sufficient rest periods between races and training sessions to prevent overexertion and injuries.

Betting: The Challenges of Dependency and Addiction

Olivier Delloye highlights that "tThe association with gambling can harm our image among a broad, family-oriented audience, leading to real rejection from some." Although horse racing betting is popular, it carries a negative reputation globally.

Firstly, many religions culturally oppose gambling. For example, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all consider earning money through luck without effort to be sinful. In 2009, Malian footballer Frédéric Kanouté, who played for FC Seville, refused to wear his team’s jersey due to its sponsor, as he believed gambling sponsorship conflicted with his Muslim faith. This illustrates the cultural rejection of gambling.

Secondly, ethical concerns revolve around the potential for addiction. The risks associated with gambling addiction are significant, as it involves an inability to stop betting, which can have serious health consequences. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies gambling addiction as a disease. According to the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), 4.2% of French horse racing bettors in 2019 had developed a gambling addiction.

What can be done?

Promoting Responsible Gambling

  • Awareness Campaigns: Launch public awareness campaigns to educate bettors about the risks of gambling addiction and promote responsible betting habits.
  • Self-Exclusion Programs: Encourage self-exclusion programs where individuals can voluntarily ban themselves from betting activities for a certain period.

Support Systems for Addicts

  • Hotlines and Counseling: Provide hotlines and counselling services for individuals struggling with gambling addiction.
  • Rehabilitation Programs: Develop rehabilitation programs specifically tailored for gambling addicts to help them recover and reintegrate into society.

Cultural Sensitivity and Alternatives

  • Respect Cultural Beliefs: Ensure marketing and sponsorship practices respect cultural and religious beliefs opposing gambling.
  • Offer Alternatives: Promote other aspects of horse racing, such as the sport and the animals, to attract audiences who might otherwise avoid gambling-related activities.

Transparent Practices

  • Clear Information: Provide clear and transparent information about the odds, risks, and potential consequences of betting.
  • Public Reporting: Regularly publish reports on betting activities and measures taken to prevent addiction and unethical practices.

A Selective World for the Privileged Elite

Since the time of Homer, owning, riding, and training horses have been marks of the political and economic elite in Greek society. The racetrack has been consistently associated with aristocratic culture across various art forms, including statues and cinema.

This tradition of aristocratic horse ownership and leadership in racing institutions underscores the exclusivity of the racing world. The elite image is further reinforced by event portrayals: champagne, sophisticated attire, and VIP boxes are still prominent at the ParisLongchamp racetrack during the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Consequently, horse ownership is perceived as out of reach for the general public, and the substantial financial commitment required in the racing world strengthens its reputation as a "sport for the wealthy."

What can be done?

Broadening Access and Participation

  • Community Programs: Develop programs that introduce horse racing to diverse communities, offering opportunities for people from various backgrounds to learn about and participate in the sport.
  • Scholarships and Sponsorships: Provide scholarships or sponsorships for aspiring jockeys, trainers, and other racing professionals from underrepresented groups.

Affordable Ownership Options

  • Shared Ownership: Promote shared or fractional ownership models, allowing more people to own a stake in racehorses without the full financial burden.
  • Incentive Programs: Create incentives for new owners, such as tax breaks or financial assistance, to encourage broader participation in horse ownership.

Inclusive Events and Marketing

  • Family-Friendly Events: Organise family-friendly events at racetracks to attract a wider audience and create a more inclusive atmosphere.
  • Diverse Marketing Campaigns: Use marketing campaigns that showcase the diversity within the sport and highlight stories of individuals from different backgrounds succeeding in horse racing.

Declining Popularity of Horse Racing Due to Poor Communication and Transparency

Although horse racing generates significant revenue, its popularity is waning, as seen in the drop in betting volumes and racetrack attendance. A key reason for this decline is the sport’s lack of visibility. Horse racing is generally not well-known or is misunderstood by the public. For instance, while even non-fans can name tennis or football stars, it is difficult for those unfamiliar with horse racing to identify a famous jockey or horse, due to the absence of prominent figures in the sport.

This problem is not only rooted in the sport's history but also in its ineffective strategies. Media coverage is sparse, partly because horse racing has not modernised. Didier Krainc, creator and owner of Vivaldi Stables, comments, "It is a world that has not embraced modernity; it is very traditional (...) There is no modern treatment of the spectacle." Other sports have adapted to create a spectacle and meet television requirements by implementing regulation uniforms and revising game rules to make events more engaging. In contrast, horse racing has focused on speed over endurance since World War II, leading to races that last only a few minutes and much of the action occurring out of spectators’ view. Additionally, the sport's outreach efforts are minimal, with industry media focusing inward and offering little content for newcomers.

Nicholas Nugent, CEO of Goffs, points out, "The problem is that it is a sport that plays out for two minutes, then there is a 28-minute intermission, then another two minutes, followed by another intermission. (...) We need to rethink how to manage our audience and the time between races; the live racing experience is very important."

Horse racing broadcast. Source: Midjourney
Horse racing broadcast. Source: Midjourney

What can be done?

Modernising the Sport

  • Enhanced Broadcasts: Improve television and online streaming quality, incorporating multiple camera angles, slow-motion replays, and insightful commentary to make races more engaging.
  • Shortened Races and Events: Consider shortening the overall duration of events to maintain viewer interest and reduce the lengthy intermissions.

Increasing Visibility and Accessibility

  • Celebrity Endorsements: Collaborate with well-known figures in other sports or entertainment to promote horse racing and attract a broader audience.
  • Interactive Content: Develop interactive and educational content, such as virtual tours of racetracks, behind-the-scenes videos, and profiles of jockeys and horses, to engage and inform the public.

Engaging the Younger Audience

  • Social Media Campaigns: Utilise social media platforms to reach younger audiences with engaging content, live updates, and interactive features like polls and Q&A sessions.
  • Youth Programs: Implement programs that introduce young people to horse racing, such as school partnerships, youth clubs, and discounted entry for young spectators.

Enhancing the Live Racing Experience

  • Improved Facilities: Upgrade racetrack facilities to provide a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for spectators, including better seating, dining options, and viewing areas.

Collaborating with Media

  • Media Partnerships: Partner with mainstream media outlets to increase coverage of horse racing events and related stories, making the sport more visible and accessible.
  • Content Diversification: Create diverse content that appeals to different segments of the audience, such as documentaries, interviews, and feature articles on prominent figures in horse racing.

Transparency and Outreach

  • Open Communication: Foster transparency by regularly updating the public on industry practices, decisions, and developments through newsletters, blogs, and social media.
  • Educational Campaigns: Run campaigns to educate the public about the intricacies of horse racing, including the breeding, training, and care of racehorses, to build a deeper appreciation for the sport.

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