AGM 2021 - President's speech
I am already in to my second year as President and again delivering my speech virtually. It is a shame but I hope to be speaking to you all in person sometime in the near future.
It has been a difficult year again for the sport. Less dealing with the initial shock of the virus. More focussing on the sport's recovery, ensuring we get things right now to protect the sport and position it for the future.
In spite of that, I feel a bit of fresh air. It looks like racing and the country are returning to normal. We have people on courses, owners in paddocks and our racecourses and famous festivals pulling in crowds.
In such a challenging year - with an everchanging landscape of rules and regulations - I couldn’t be prouder of the team here at the ROA. From the inhouse team, through to the executives and the board. Everyone has given so much, and worked so hard to support owners throughout the pandemic.
It has never been clearer how much racing contributes to this country. Whether culturally, financially or in the community. We have continued to put on a show when other sports were unable too, and give everyone a lift.
Owners have been key to the sports ability to keep functioning, and even growing numbers of horses in training in certain categories. Without owners this sport - that we all love so much - just would not be possible.
Our focus has been directed at the relationship between owners, the racecourses and the financing of the whole industry. This will continue.
It is key that all of the sports participants understand what Owners require. From the raceday experience and prize money returns, changes to administrative processes or relations with trainers, jockeys and stable staff.
Over the course of the last year we have made real progress on structural changes that directly impact revenue for the sport and owners. Alongside other bodies we have pushed forward work across Levy reform, prize money improvement and corporate governance.
As you will know, Prize money remains a significant focus. Finding common ground amongst all participants in the sport hasn’t been easy but I am confident that all in racing now understand how important prize money is to Owners, Trainers, Jockeys and Stable Staff.
I have devoted substantial time and effort into various initiatives to secure pre Covid levels of prize money and grow it over the coming few years. Across Levy contributions, Racecourse Executive Contributions and by helping to generate revenue growth across the whole industry. To secure these objectives we need sensible and agreed Levy reform and extension as well as agreements with Racecourses around Executive Contributions.
On those commercial agreements, the conversations and negotiations continue. The link between prize money, field sizes, horses in training and owners is established it is therefore in the interests of all parties to push forward and establish robust distribution mechanisms for all revenue inputs into the sport.
Levy reform will continue to be a priority for me. With its clearly defined parameters, the levy is much more aligned to the Sport’s participants than racecourses and their revenue streams.
Let us not forget it has funded most of our prize money this year when racecourses did not. It is - in many ways - a direct revenue stream for owners in how it supports prize money. We will be looking at how to secure fair and sustainable reform.
When we benchmark the return that racing receives from bookmakers across other countries the return in Britain is – by a long way - last. This has to change. Especially in a post Brexit world where Britain has to stand alone and attract inward investment, this should be achievable.
A cross industry group on Levy reform has already been working hard through the pandemic to find a solution. We are looking across overseas betting. We are looking at the way in which it is calculated.
With the Government's promised Levy review and the Gambling act review there should be opportunities. We will also have a job to protect gambling and levy revenue at the same time. The politics of it all will be difficult as ever but we hope to make progress where possible over the coming year.
Elsewhere, the ROA has made good progress on its own governance. Our internal corporate governance review has been completed with a series of progressive changes recommended.
These changes really bring the Association up to date in this crucial area. Meeting modern corporate governance standards will support the ROA in the future and help us to continue to support you.
The first steps from this review’s recommendations have already been taken. We have already started the transition to a skills-based board to broaden experience and representation on our board.
That transition includes the recent elections of Philip Davies MP, Mouse Hamilton-Fairley. And Celia Djivanovic, who I would like to welcome and welcome back. The new board members will bring a variety of experience and professional backgrounds to the Board and I look forward to working with them.
The ROA has also taken steps to focus on welfare standards across the industry this year, most notably in our work with the Horse Welfare Board on the Aftercare Review. Welfare - as many of you will have seen - continues to be a significant challenge to our industry. We need to ensure that we are putting our best foot forward and showing the equine world and the wider public how vital welfare is to our sport.
This year has been a wakeup call for the industry but also shown opportunities for change and growth. The structure of British Racing has to be looked. We need to ensure that change can take place. that crucial decisions can be made. And that strong leadership can help grow and protect the sport, be it in revenue generation or regulation.
We will ensure that the ROA continues to guide our sport’s leadership to improve ownership – as an experience and as an investment - and protect the future of racing.
There are significant challenges in the recovery still to come, but the big questions facing the sport are also opportunities.
As we look to 2022, we will be focussed, as an organisation, on delivering positive change for our members and all owners.
With our excellent team in place and the new initiatives being launched, it promises to be a year to make real progress.
It is an honour and a pleasure to continue to fight for your interests as owners over the coming year.
The turmoil of the last few years has never shaken my belief in the future of racing in this country. We are effective when we work together. With the ROA representing your interests and focussed on putting the owner at the centre of racing, the future of racing will remain secure for years to come.