Britain's Donoughue Calls for Unity Among Racing Groups

Lord Bernard Donoughue, a former minister in Tony Blair's British government, warned key racing bodies of the need for unity if the sport in Britain does not want to face an "Armageddon"-type situation.

Donoughue, commenting as guest speaker of the British Thoroughbred Breeders' Association's annual general meeting in London, also chaired the Future Financing Review of Racing Group, which has recently sent its confidential findings to the government after looking into ways of securing money for the sport when the Levy Board is abolished.

Donoughue confirmed that his body -- which was told to locate a method not involving government intervention -- had found that the only viable solution was the sale of pictures and associated data to bookmakers and the media.

But he warned that the two potential pitfalls were a successful legal challenge or the racing failing to universally back the scheme.

"I'm not sure that everyone appreciates the acute financial crisis facing racing which arose because the government agreed to abolish the Levy," said Donoughue. "The government wanted to get rid of the Levy and was persuaded by the British Horseracing Board that it had a replacement in data rights. But they did things the wrong way round. They got rid of the Levy before they introduced the replacement, which it turned out doesn't fly legally.

"Unless there is a secure, sustainable replacement, it is a kind of Armageddon -- the industry will be minus £100 million (a year) from the Levy," Donoughue continued. "It will be a disaster for everyone -- not just the racing industry but also breeding. My message to all in racing and breeding is that we must unite to find a sustainable funding system for the industry. We need consensus in the industry, especially over the next two months when each party considers its approach."

He added that the proposal had not yet been shown to be legally watertight. "Our proposal is not yet legally secure, we think it can be, and over the next two months the legalities must be looked at. I'm not pessimistic about the legal side although, as the BHB found out, you can take all the legal advice you want but you are never sure until someone takes a test case to court. But the more legally robust it looks, the less likely someone will want to incur the costs of going to Court."

The TBA also announced that it was prepared to join the Horsemen's Group, a fledgling body backed by the owners' and trainers' association, as long as certain changes were made to its constitution.