BHB Defends Industry in Wake of Investigation

The British Horseracing Board has, as expected, launched a strong defense against the findings of an Office Of Fair Trading investigation in the sport. The BHB has condemned them as "disastrous."

At a press conference Sept. 8, Greg Nichols, the BHB chief executive, said if the OFT "has its way and completely unravels the current system of governance and administration, the implications would be disastrous: Courses will close, jobs will be lost, National Hunt racing will be almost wiped out, overseas investment in our sport will be lost, and the quality of racing will decline."

The OFT, the main government-appointed competitions authority in Great Britain, would like to see racecourses have more power to determine when they stage racing. It has called for deregulation of purses and race-type constraints imposed by the BHB, and wants data rights, now negotiated centrally, to be handed back to individual racecourses.

Nichols made comparisons with how racing is organized in other countries and has garnered support from overseas racing authorities.

"There is not another racing country in the world that operates the type of free-for-all system that the OFT wants to introduce in the UK," Nichols said. "They all think we would be mad to go down that road because it will pit different parts of the sport against each other, trigger off a spiral of decline, and damage the consumer interest."

A united response to the Rule 14 Notice issued by the OFT in April was put together by a BHB working party that included the main racing interest groups such as the Racecourse Association, trade body for Britain's 59 racecourses, which has negotiated concessions from the BHB.

The submission argues there is no foundation for the OFT charge that racing fails to comply with competition law, and it charges the OFT investigation process was flawed by an unwillingness to objectively gather and assess evidence and a determination from the outset to find the sport guilty.

"Racing's stakeholders have worked together to develop a response to the OFT that can command wide support across the sport," Nichols said. "We have sought the views of many different people and organizations within racing to achieve this objective. We believe both the findings of the OFT's Rule 14 Notice and the process behind them are wrong."

Nichols said there is more night and Sunday racing in Great Britain, and next year, a racecourse will open for the first time in more than 75 years. Handle and purses have grown in value to record levels, and attendance is the highest since the 1950s, he said.