Thursday, 18 January 2018

FORGET THE SURVEYS, THEY DON'T EVEN TELL HALF THE STORY


Surveys, opinion polls, or any set of figures derived from the public responding to a question or set of questions. There may have been a time when many swore by them but two General Elections, a Brexit vote, and a US Presidential Election, have destroyed their credibility as well as severely damaging funds of those speculating on political events.

This is something to bear in mind when considering that You Gov poll conducted back in November, where the respondents were asked how they viewed various sports. Not surprisingly racing did not fare too well and less surprisingly still, the Racing Post put a positive spin on the results.

It is futile trying to delve deep into the results. On the plus side racing was only the joint sixth most boring sport, rated more riveting than thriving sports such as Golf and Cricket. But what does not feel right is when you look at the age groups, with not much difference in the opinions of the older and younger generations.

We know in our guts that racing does not appeal to the younger generations. And even in the unlikely circumstances that similar results would be returned in a larger poll, we would see opinions in a different light if it related to betting interests only, the only ones that really matter were racing is concerned.

On terrestrial TV coverage last weekend Richard Hoiles came out with the customary 'for the benefit of those watching for the first time', something that almost certainly is a response to orders from those pulling the strings. The commentator himself must deep down know that there is no fresh interest in the sport. Anyone believing so is less blind than deluded.

Who knows whether Ed Chamberlin was also 'guided' by others when recently advocating that racing put to bed the old mysterious terminology and replace it with a language to suit the modern era. He is not the first to call for this change but is treading on the wrong path.

The bizarre, odd customs and language of racing are a plus.They should be cherished. Applying the modernism angle cheapens the whole image and the brand, one that can boast of a stronger, richer history than all other sports.

I was chatting to a work colleague who is an avid Cricket fan, plays in a local league team, and lived many of his younger years in Australia. He is resolutely in favour of retaining the mysterious 'in house' terms used in his sport, believing that they add character, amusement, and protect the long entrenched customs.

In fact, during 2017 Sky Golf did a light hearted piece which involved putting some unexpected questions to tour players, such as asking which names for fielding position were real or made up. The players seemed genuinely tickled and engaged by it all.

It has to be accepted that the day of three and four channel TV has long gone and a sport like horse racing can easily pass people by. If on the rare occasion they are exposed to it they are unlikely to be impressed by a show condescending to their needs.If they do get bitten, then they'll go on a knowledge seeking binge on their own initiative.

Once, this would involve buying the Sporting Life and Sporting Chronicle daily, the Sporting Chronicle Handicap Book on a Thursday, and maybe even The Racehorse and Racing Specialist on a Friday. Any historic knowledge could be expanded by a trip to a bookshop or library.

Much of it is on a plate now. You can search and search the internet and call yourself a 'researcher'. But for those who like going through dusty hardcopy archives there are some gems that you can't make appear on the internet. Scrapbooks from the 1970's  and early 1980's for starters. Ah yes, I treasure my Pacemaker International magazines right back from 1974 until it was modernised in the early 1990's  - you can't get those online.

As for TV coverage there are plenty prepared to use the sport as a stepping stone. As a shop window to display their personal 'talents'. Claire Balding went from being an enthusiastic front, to a swell headed part timer. Now, swept away by her own self importance, she does not need the sport anymore.

Matt Chapman would have happily started down that path too but any of those ambitions have been curbed for the time being. I guess Rishi Pershad would be happy to ditch the sport if he could obtain employment covering his favourite sport of cricket. He appears on everything else but the role he probably wants most of all eludes him.

What cannot be fathomed is how a sport like racing that urgently needs to stem the dwindling share of the betting pie fails to make access to wider information cost free. It's a sport fighting for it's future so all racing channels need to be free to air, the highest quality online form books free to study, and racecourse admission costs reduced to match those in France.

It won't happen anytime soon.To be honest it may already be too late. But as a first step, what about a BHA website listing the movements of every horse in training. The publishers of Horses In Training will not be supporting such an initiative but for an aspiring student of the sport to be able to click on the details of every trainer's string regularly updated might just be a facility that wins over some new fans.

Which brings me to another work colleague, the one that once told me, 'racing is not a proper sport as it needs betting to survive.'  

He's been causing havoc for over ten years on one of the football forums for fans of a spectacularly famous Premiership Football Club. He cannot accept that he, as a long, long standing season ticket holder at his club, one whose ground he lives only three miles away from, is classed as no more of a fan of the club than someone who lives in Bath or Beijing, and has chosen a big name club to 'support' in a location they have no connection to and live many miles away from.

He is obsessed with what he sees as the injustice of it all and many of his bans have come from rankling many fellow posters by referring head on to them as 'parasites', or condescendingly as his  'distancely challenged friends'.

His usernames are generally 1970's themed. He had a long run lasting a few months out of Spangles, and is now attempting to build up posts under Amateur Hour, after Sparks second single. His interest in racing is limited but his 'put down' of the sport reflects how much too many people view it.

Racing does need betting to survive but has lost many opportunities to secure more from the betting pot. For starters, the Totalisor should have been brought into the sport's hands and molded into something that would make it competitive with SP betting. If the stimulation in trying to solve the puzzle of a race wains, so does the sport.

Back in the 1980's Rod Fabricius, with reference to Goodwood, stated that he would rather have a crowd of one thousand paying £10 each than ten thousand paying £1 each. The latter option with raw racing on show without the gimmicky pop concerts would be the choice if the clock could be turned back. But they took for granted that racing would continue to be the dominating domain for punters and the sport has suffered ever since.

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