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Annamarie Phelps speech at the ROA AGM

 

 

(Annamarie's spech starts from 42:20)

Thank you for this opportunity to meet and hear from you the owners in these early days as chair of BHA. You were probably all as surprised as I was to be appointed to the role: and whilst I knew that it was a huge honour, I am learning what a privilege it is having been able to see behind the scenes at the Guineas and Royal Ascot; met with so many across the sport already including the Sport Minister, members of parliament, Sheikh Fahad and Qatar racing, the Jockey Club, many of our trainers, the Levy Board, and not least of course, a wide range of passionate owners.

As owners your role is critical in our sport. You are our biggest investors, creating jobs, supporting trainers and their businesses, nurturing our wonderful horses and playing a leading role in the race?day theatre.

I would like to share a little about me to give you some background: I suspect that I am not alone, in coming from background where racing was not a central part of life, but never far away. With my Irish background, horses were very much on the periphery of rural holidays in Kildare and Wexford and I still have vivid memories of being with my grandmother at Leopardstown.

But my racing story really began at university, where I became close friends with the daughter of a National Hunt [ref. Jumps Racing] devotee. We later shared a tiny flat in London. She and I were both starting our careers and I was beginning my journey to reach my goal of competing for Britain as a rower.

We would attend races with her parents from time to time. In 1989 we sat down on that Saturday afternoon like millions of others to watch the National. We were probably more nervous than ever, and being reasonably well informed, we were backing Little Polveir.

Some of you may remember how the race unfolded. But you all know the sensation when your horse goes into the lead. (At least, I hope you do!) I was there with my heart in my mouth, could he hang on? Approaching the elbow, there were 5 horses still in the race. West Tip put in a burst of speed. Would it be decisive? Well, you probably know the rest. Little Polveir shrugged off the fightback and went well clear. Jimmy Frost, her jockey, was elated and so were we.

Elation but a tinge of sadness – my flat mate and best Friend’s dad, Mike Shone, had sold Little Polveir that February after three failed attempts at the National. It was incredibly exciting and yet agonising. He didn’t get to stand in the winner’s enclosure that day although he was as proud as any owner could ever be and of course made sure he’d laid a hefty bet on little Pol.

If you’d told me then that I’d have the chance to chair the governing body of a sport that has this extraordinary ability to capture human emotions, I’d have laughed at you. Before we’d finished celebrating, I was already focusing on the 6 am training session I had to make the next morning.

And that was my life for the next few years. The pinnacle for me was winning the World Championships in 1993 and getting selected to represent GB at the Atlanta Olympics in the Women’s 8. Despite setting a world best time on the way we knew we’d need to achieve something special to get a medal. We made 7th place but hey, we beat the Germans.

Despite our performance the rowers, as you might recall, were still the most successful contributors to the British team in Atlanta. My team?mates, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, won Britain’s only Gold and the Men’s Four picked up a bronze, GB finished 36th overall on the medal table.

Remarkable to think then that TeamGB won 27 Golds and 67 medals in Rio three years ago, finishing an astonishing 2nd on the medal table. The advent of the National Lottery and almost as importantly the boost given to British sport when we won the right to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was key. More important though was the careful and strategic way that money has been invested for maximum impact. Decisions that haven’t always met with universal approval, but you cannot argue have been effective. I have been able to have play a small part in that story of success as Chair of British Rowing and through Board roles on the British Olympic Association and ParalympicsGB.

I’ve learned that success in sport is built on dedication and sacrifice. Athletes, yes, but more so the sacrifice of coaches, the families, friends and relationships. I’ve lived that all?consuming passion as a sport competitor; and when I was lucky enough to witness Frankie’s Four at Royal Ascot, I had some inkling of the hard work and determination it takes to be that good. I want to support our jockeys to get the recognition they deserve alongside all those athletes and sportsmen and women so loved by our nation.

Of course, most people in sport don’t win. The vast majority live on the edge financially, often sustained only by their dreams. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so it’s tough. I see that reality for many of our trainers. Driven, ambitious, loving what they do, pushing themselves to the limit. I would like to salute them all as fellow competitors; as entrepreneurs fighting for their dreams. And to mark Racing Staff Week this week, I would like to give a special mention of their wonderful staff in yards and studs across the industry who so often make those dreams come true.

Working alongside leaders in sport over many years, I’ve never been far away from conversations about money. Sports need to flex and adapt to commercial and external pressures and changes; to make the most of opportunities and to attract greater investment. At Henley Royal Regatta an event with traditions as proud and long?standing as those in racing, we have also been working out how to adapt to meet the needs of commercial partners, media and fans to build revenues and sustain a great event. In the same way in racing we need to respect our tradition but stretch the boundaries of innovation to ensure our offering is fit for purpose for the next 5, 10 and more years. It’s encouraging to see how our racecourses are responding to this challenge in a competitive environment where everyone wants the customers’ pound.

The past few years have posed tough questions for those of us who regulate sport. Serious questions have been raised about integrity and behaviour. From the sporting pinnacle of the Olympic Games through to youngsters playing at their local club. The reputational consequences for sports that haven’t acted properly are dire. And when your reputation suffers, the money can stop flowing very, very quickly. The greater the investment, the higher the profile, the deeper the scrutiny.

I had the responsibility of investigating allegations of bullying in British Cycling but other sports, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, football have seen allegations of abuse of vulnerable youngsters. Ask ANY governing body in sport now what their primary responsibilities and I’d be surprised if they didn’t put the protection of participants up at the top of the list.

I believe that my experience will give me the opportunity to offer two things, in particular, to British racing. Firstly, a deep awareness of the competitive environment in which all sports are competing for attention: for spectators and for commercial support. We must look at the world outside racing, we must listen to those audiences and act upon what they tell us. Based on what we hear back, I will ask questions of racing. I hope they’ll always be pertinent. Sometimes, they may even be uncomfortable…

I’ve seen enough already to tell me that racing has many of the talented people it needs to find the answers.

.Secondly, my background allows me to reach out to audiences outside racing’s traditional fans and challenge them to think afresh about our sport. We have so much to be proud of. Racing’s Story is a great story to tell, and I’m looking forward to having that conversation, at Westminster and through the media. They may not all be easy conversations, but I intend to be not only your ambassador but also your advocate. [and I hope that you will give me that support]

Challenges and opportunities

One of the key reasons why I took up this role is because I believe that many of the challenges and opportunities to racing are common to all sports:

Customers’ needs and wants are changing. You can see that in every High Street and across all demographics. If you can’t meet contemporary expectations, you’re in trouble. Put bluntly, that means better customer service, greater convenience, better value.

The demographics of Britain is changing too. There’s greater diversity, with more than 40% of the people in London, for example, coming from minority groups. That’s the most prosperous area of the country, ringed by racecourses from Brighton to Newmarket, from Newbury to Chelmsford City.

Media channels that people have used to follow sport are changing dramatically. The mobile phone and the internet have changed everything, including the way people consume live sport or engage with the action and their heroes 365 days a year. And, of course, that includes betting too with over 60% of betting on horseracing taking place online.

All of these factors, digital technology and demographic change, are changing social attitudes. We need to live in the real world, understand that those coming of age as adults now, have different views to their parents. We can see the impact in people’s views on animal welfare, where racing faces a profound ethical challenge.

We are seeing the rise of the ‘social consumer’ who really cares that what they buy does not cause harm to the planet, its people or its creatures.

Our racing journalists in the mainstream media and the Racing Post and broadcasters are doing a brilliant job to keep our traditional audiences engaged. But they need more help from us [great content] to create more human interest if they are to compete for space and resources with their colleagues who cover other sports. How lucky are we to have ITV as well as 2 dedicated channels in Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing!

And there is opportunity – every national newspaper bar the FT had [a positive story about the] National on its frontpage this year. We have a number of these supreme moment to cut through to audiences who don’t normally follow racing – can we as a sport make even more of them?

Other sports are already responding to these changes: modernising existing products or introducing new ones. Not for the first time cricket is entering a cycle of innovation with the 100?ball game.

Tennis is adapting the Davis Cup to give it greater impact, cycling’s Tour de Yorkshire, which only began in 2015, is attracting bigger stars each year and government investment. The NFL is making a big play to UK audiences and the NBA are planning a UK onslaught.

Sports are also looking to new segments of the audience and for this the better the data we have, and we share, the stronger we will be. The drive to build women’s sport is perhaps the most dramatic example. It’s not political correctness that has led rugby, football and cricket to invest in their women’s games. There are new audiences to play for, new revenues to be won. Yes, that means some up?front investment, but they are seeing the rewards. Over 6 million viewers for the big England games in the Women’s Football World Cup, who knows what number that might be for their semi-final this evening!! No wonder Barclays has put up £10 million for the Women’s Super League.

I was involved in moving the Women’s Boat Race to the Tideway. This simple move doubled the time for live TV coverage and it doubled the sponsor’s payment, with only a marginal increase in cost. We need to be smart and use the natural advantages we have as a sport and make evidence?based investment decisions and follow them through. Don’t get me wrong. I treasure the fact that racing has women and men competing head?on. It’s a great selling point for the sport. My question, rather, is whether we are making the most of this distinctiveness to attract interest to racing, with the coverage and revenues that could bring in and beginning to appeal to people outside of our traditional demographic.

It’s great that our female stars attracted Dettori?esque levels of interest from their golden hour at Cheltenham. Great that Hayley Turner won at Royal Ascot. Great to have the Shergar Cup. But could we do more to capitalise on the public’s enthusiasm? Is there space to give them even more of what they see in other sports, the skills and abilities of top?class women competitors? Especially on the back of the recent report showing that female jockeys are underestimated and could give the betting punter a better return.

Whilst we are talking diversity and inclusion, I’m delighted to see our sport supporting 50 years of Pride this week. We are a family united by our love of racing and rightly known for welcoming anyone who shares our passion. We celebrate individual style and self?expression. No one should feel they can’t be themselves in British racing. And no one should experience prejudice. So I strongly support the work of the Diversity Group for British Racing on many fronts and thank them for leading the way.

One final observation here; Our government has a strong participation agenda in sport, mainly to combat obesity and reduce demands on the NHS. This inevitably favours sports like running and cycling. Should we shrug our shoulders and say that’s not for us, or is there something precious and unique about the benefits that being involved with horses brings for people’s well?being and mental health that we could champion? How is racing going to travel with the times whilst being true to its heritage and its values?

There’s definitely an opportunity with Parliamentarians if we can develop these touchpoints with our sport. Yes, we have a strong group of MPs who love racing and I’ve met many of them since I was appointed to this role, some at Westminster, some enjoying a day out – at the races. But it’s important that we branch out beyond our core support group to promote the social and economic benefits of our sport, which brings jobs, wealth and a distinctive identity to so many parts of rural Britain.

Racing has already identified these trends and is responding. I’ve been struck by the sophistication and skill with which the customer experience in racing has been developed and the desire of trainers to work with your organization to enhance your experience as owners. Racing is brimming with talent and expertise – let’s just make sure we ask the right questions.

Working Together

Perhaps the most important question addressed to me is how I, as BHA Chair, see my new organization working to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities.

There’s not time – nor am I really ready ? to give you an analysis of how the BHA should or could develop. What I’ve seen so far tells me the staff and their leaders are people who care deeply for racing and work hard on many fronts. They work for a governing body that’s not 12 years old in a sport that’s been around for centuries.

And yet the way sports are run has changed faster than ever in those past 12 years. Look at all the issues that sport is dealing with. Not just racing rules, integrity and the anti?doping challenge, but safeguarding, racism, sexism, bullying and mental health. That’s why government has been stressing the need for governing bodies to have a degree of independence so they can ? sometimes ? share some uncomfortable truths with their own sport and act upon them.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the BHA has been running fast ? maybe too fast at times ? to keep pace as all sports modernise the way they are run and meet high expectations from government, parliamentarians and the media…no governing body or regulator can deal with all these things by itself. And you certainly can’t regulate your way to success. We will need to take people with us. I am often reminded of the African Proverb if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, take people with you. And there is clearly a balance here if we want to stay ahead of the game.

It’s not always understood how racing’s leaders chose to split the leadership of the sport into three, giving equal weight to racecourses, horsemen and the BHA on strategic and non?regulatory matters. No single leader can therefore prevail, and the sport can only move forward at all through coalition and agreement.

This structure has its challenges: it makes racing strong when its moves together but it’s also vulnerable to division and disagreement which can bring us to a halt.

So one thing I am very clear about, when I look at that list of challenges and opportunities. Now is the time for unity, not division. For leaders who can work together, cooperate and sometimes to compromise: on all bar our integrity.

Given our place in the sport, the BHA must be collaborative to the core, a role?model for partnership but without losing the independence and rigour that maintains the trust of government and others, especially in the area of animal welfare and integrity. Government expects leaders in sport to be fearless, principled and bold.

And it’s especially important that we all work together when dealing with government and MPs. I’d like to acknowledge my predecessors Steve Harman and of course Atholl Duncan for manging this united front at Westminster on behalf of everyone.

And we do do this well: The sport has a Public Affairs Group on which all parts of the industry are represented, including Charlie Liverton on behalf of the ROA and owners, and which helps ensure we speak with one voice.

As a result, there is much goodwill towards racing, and I have been impressed by the sport’s influence. This helped us achieve the Levy changes of 2017 and it will help us as we seek further changes in years to come.

But please note the message delivered by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright in Parliament a few weeks ago when he said. ‘We will look at future changes of the levy when appropriate to deal with any change in circumstances, but I think it is right to allow any changes made to the levy last year to bed in.’

I have heard the same message in private from ministers and officials so please do not expect changes to be imminent. But we will keep making the case and are gathering the evidence?base for further change. For sure there are a number of ways to approach this. We certainly believe there’s a powerful case for levelling the playing?field to ensure that British racing gets some benefit from bets placed here on international races, as happens in other racing jurisdictions. It would be fair and could help us address the increasing gaps in prize money between our top races and those elsewhere in the world. But it won’t happen overnight.

Owners

Make no mistake, I have already seen and appreciated the contribution you make, not just financially but through your influence and your desire to see the sport act progressively, notably on the welfare of our horses and our staff.

I can see that the Owners Strategy led by the ROA is already promising a better experience for owners as befits your investment in racing. I’m impressed with the work that Charlie Liverton and his team are leading and I hope it encourages you all to own more horses and further experience the thrill of ownership. For those of you newer to the sport, I’d love to see you build a long?term relationship. Racing is a sport, an industry and a love?affair, and the sport must honour its own part in that relationship, listening to what you have to say and never taking you for granted.

As the BHA, we share responsibility for increasing the appeal of ownership. Working with our partners to ensure you get the best return possible on your investment, whether that’s through prize money or the most positive experience possible.

Critical to that objective will be our future relationship with the betting industry. It’s the money they pay for our product that generates much of that prize money, as well as a healthy return for themselves. I’ve already had some significant political feedback that we could do more to nurture and protect this umbilical link, even as we continue our efforts to build a more diverse revenue stream. And we must also do all we can to help them to promote fair and safe betting as they come under further scrutiny from the Gambling Commission.

We understand and value your progressive contribution to British racing. We are working to improve our service to you and want to make it easier to do business, online, on your phone, wherever. We must get better at explaining our rules and making sure that when they do impact on our owners, the process is fair, clear and understood.

Equally, I’m not going to presume I can define for all of you after a few short weeks in the post how the role of owners in racing can grow and flourish. So I’m here today 4 weeks in to listen as much as talk and I’m looking forward to hearing your observations on ownership and the range of other matters we’ve already covered. 

I am very optimistic about our future. I’ve felt the warmth of welcome from racing’s family over the last few weeks and I can see how the sport extends a big?hearted welcome to anyone who shows an interest.

Racing has fabulous assets. Not just talented and passionate people at every level and in every role, but beautiful, green courses at the heart of communities across the land and energetic yards and studs generating jobs and wealth for our rural economies.

Racing brings great benefits to our horses, our people and those communities. And a profound commitment to strive every?day to make our sport as safe as possible for our horses and our people.

I have no doubt that racing is in good shape to weather the challenges we face and to be bold and confident in telling our story. I am proud to be your ambassador, proud to be your advocate and I look forward to working together to achieve the very best for British racing.

 

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