Governance and levy reform in focus

24 July 2021

Last month I mentioned that the clouds were rolling in on a June ‘freedom day’ and it was indeed extended to mid-July. Despite the rain and despite Covid and its  various restrictions, Royal Ascot went ahead.

What a week it was with some glorious races in challenging conditions. Oisin Murphy was the eventual star but we saw so many of the next generation of riders and horses who’ll be pushing for greatness over the years to come. The team at Ascot  racecourse deserves huge thanks for navigating such a tricky week to bring owners, breeders and fans the joys of Royal Ascot once again. I for one can’t wait for next year. 

Racing is facing more than just rain over the next few months with a number of items on the agenda to help both the sport and owners navigate the impact of Covid and support our recovery. The subject of levy reform has been much discussed and it is something that is essential for the whole sport, especially owners. A system that does not rely upon favourites losing is much needed and, with the distribution channels for levy funds already established and controlled to some extent by horsemen, this
must be our main target.

Interestingly, an anomaly exists whereby no levy is generated for UK racing from bets placed on overseas racing in Britain. With time ticking and work ongoing with wider reform it feels that a quick win on this could be the short-term gain that the sport needs, especially when it could deliver an extra £20 million for racing, and crucially, into the right pot. I expect the to-ing and fro-ing will continue on this and other areas of the levy as the sport looks at its future and how to grow its revenues alongside

 There has also been recent focus, amongst the bodies that administer and participate in the sport, on how to improve corporate governance standards. It is an issue that has become a real focus across the world of sport. The sporting landscape is evolving and there are real pressures, from Sport England and others, for us to move with the times: better transparency,  increased independence, and more diversity throughout the sport’s structure.

This is not just about being modern and compliant with the law and some of the main industry funders – it is about ensuring that racing has the right skill sets and structures in place to maximise our opportunities. More than that, it is about how improvements in governance can help racing reputationally and deliver successfully for all its participants. With better corporate governance, diversity of opinion and skills and the right checks and balances, we can ensure that our sport is making the right
decisions for its future.

As I have previously noted in this column, governance is an issue across wider society, as well as our sport, with many businesses and organisations assessing their governance structures. The ROA’s own practices and structures have been the focus of a significant internal project that has recently concluded. We have approved recommendations put forward to make changes to our Articles of Association and it is important that we continue improving our governance structures to better
represent our members’ interests across all areas of our work.

We have also further strengthened our board with the election and co-option of new directors, who, following our AGM, will be bringing a diverse set of skills that will help us push the ROA and its members’ agenda with an informed and professional board. 

There are further plans to improve member engagement with the creation of a new Members Representative Group, allowing selected members to engage with, advise and help the board and the executive. We expect to give more detail on this and other innovations in due course. 

As things return to normal, slower than expected, our  attention is focused on how this sport recovers and grows back beyond its pre-pandemic size. Part of that is how its structures and foundations are prepared for the future and part is how it treats its participants. We will be working hard to improve racing, its structures and its delivery for owners, breeders and participants alike, as the lifeblood of our industry. 

Related resources