Monday, 28 May 2018

A MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLEHILL


The 'Rooney Rule'  has been the subject of topical discussions over the past few weeks. Named after an NFL owner, the 'Rooney Rule' requires that a quota of applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds are interviewed for certain positions within that particular sport. 

Detractors claim it results in many of these candidates being pure 'token' ones who are, knowingly or not, assisting in a box-ticking exercise though supporters of the rule and variations of it can cite a notable increase in the number of NFL coaches stateside from an ethnic minority background.

The chief reason it has resurfaced in the UK stems from that Patrick Vierra statement regarding Arsenal's public interest in him for the vacant manager's position as being, in his words, 'token'. It's left open to interpretation but it is hard not to be drawn to the obvious conclusion as to what he was inferring.

Whatever an individual's regard for Arsenal FC, no one can deny that they can be considered along with other major football clubs of long standing, an international institution and one which has to consider its business model in every action and statement it makes.

In short, in order to look after this business model in all corners of the world, being inclusive is not enough, they need to be seen to be inclusive in what is a very delicate PC environment where you tread on hot coals.

Surely, as with players, if a manager or prospective manager is considered suitable enough then his race will be no bar to his prospects of being offered the position. The name Frank Rijkaard is proof in the pudding that in all of the modern, stable nations, skin colour will be no barrier to progression for management positions at the highest level.

What's this got to do with racing? Well, it's a topical issue in light of Sean Levy's recent classic success. In what is a colour blind sport, there has been an unjustified level of discussion about the perceived lack of coloured faces in racing.

Sadly, it may only be a matter of time before racing to has its own 'Rooney Rule'

Last September the BHA set up a Diversity in Racing Steering Group (DirSG) containing sixteen members from the racing industry. One of the considerations of the group was to look at bringing in policies that have been adopted in other sports which are claimed to have  ' led to real improvement in diversity and inclusivity metrics.'

It would be appalling if racing had to go down this path of making statements that don't have a clear meaning but give a general gist that there exists institutionalised racism within the sport.

Anyone with common sense knows that any talented kid, good hands and all that stuff, with a hunger for success and reliable in character, will get a chance if he looks after himself.

The UK's present champion jockey is Brazilian and in racial terms one who many would class as being from an ethnic minority background. The ranks of stable staff, not least amongst the big yards that pay the best wages, have a global representation amongst their workforce, many Asian and Black.

As long ago as the 1970's we had the Guyanese born Compton Rodrigues among the jockey ranks. It was two decades later when Royston Ffrench appeared. He made a considerable impression as a stylish apprentice, adopting that streamlined posture that apprentices were now preferring over the Pat Eddery style.

Ffrench was the most sought after claimer during a terrific 1997 season and promised to go to the top ranks. But like all dynamic apprentices, it gets tougher once the claim goes. Still, unlike many others, Ffrench established himself successfully in the jockey ranks, partnering winners of some of the major handicaps and winning Group One events in mainland Europe.

Whatever, there is no evidence that his heritage has had any impact, positive or negative on his career. The only reason you would raise his skin colour would be describing him to someone asking who he was, who was new to the sport.

This is a sport where the jockey ranks stateside are an array of most of the races on the globe. And in Europe, Germany has the dark skinned Panamanian Eduardo Pedroza ( in picture) still going strong in its jockey ranks over there. He won a Group 3 race earlier this month.

Surprisingly, the UK has always lacked oriental representations amongst the jockey ranks. Perhaps even more surprising when this race had more than its fair share of persons small in stature.

There was Neil Pollard who has part Chinese ancestry.  A real stylish apprentice, another with a low seat, he was trusted with the job of David Elsworth's stable jockey on losing his claim but things did not work out. One or two owners lost faith in him, others followed, rides were lost and the confidence evaporated.

Another point to touch upon with budding riders is that while you have some successful flat jockeys who have not sat upon a horse until leaving school, nearly all national hunt riders have been involved at an early age, most jumping poles on ponies. And the image of pony clubs is a white one, accurate or not.

Still, I can think of two mixed-race riders who competed in and won races in the national hunt sphere, Josh Apiafi, one of the DirSG members, and Marvin Mello.

Mind you, the wider subject of inclusivity can throw up some potentially amusing scenarios. When these theme days began to expand, Brighton held a 'Gay Day' and encouraged attendees to 'get into the spirit of things'.

Racing Post journalist mused over whether John Gosden would turn up dressed as Boy George, or Michael Stoute as one of the Village People. Unfortunately, the way all this overprotective nonsense has escalated in very recent times, I doubt such comments would now be published, even allowing for the fact that they were made in levity. That is a shame.

From past experiences or misconceived but long rooted beliefs, all of us will not view all religions, nationalities, races, and various identities and leanings, with equal consideration. But thankfully, at the end of the day, the PC brigade have not found a way of forcing individuals to think as their doctrine would prescribe. 

Horse racing has no racist stigma attached to it. If a  'Rooney Rule' variation was applied, those who pour scorn on the sport, whether for political reasons, ie 'class war' and all that, or animal welfare issues, would then have the option of another angle of attack.

The sport has more pressing matters concerning its immediate future to deal with and should not be making an issue of what is a non-issue.

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