Horse racing is under the microscope this week, writes Darren Lewis, but you can’t stamp out bad behaviour if people are too afraid to speak out
While in the real world you and I would be held accountable for our actions in the workplace, some industries remain in the dark ages.
You don’t need to be well versed in horse racing to have been appalled by the alleged bullying scandal involving a leading female jump jockey, Bryony Frost, and one of her male colleagues, Robbie Dunne.
Just like the whole of cricket was damned by the testimony in front of MPs of Azeem Rafiq last month, horse racing and its attitude towards women is being put firmly under the microscope in a disciplinary hearing that has sent shock waves far beyond the sport and continues today.
The hearing was told last week that problems began four years ago when Dunne, 36, stood in front of Frost, 26, naked, and she objected. He maintained he was simply leaving the sauna in facilities that were often shared with female riders.
Frost alleged Dunne had called her a “f****** whore” and a “dangerous ****” after a race last year. He categorically denies using such language. A witness claimed he’d called her “a f****** slut”.
Other jockeys maintain they’d heard “nothing out of the ordinary.” Several female jockeys gave evidence that while he was “not to everyone’s taste”, they did not find him “inappropriate” or “bullying”. Make up your own mind.
Frost wept last week as she spoke of the way she said been ostracised by her colleagues for even raising her claims with the authorities.
But she insisted the other female jockeys were terrified of talking for fear of being exiled from racing’s equivalent of the dressing room – the weighing room.
“Personally speaking,” she said, “the isolation I have found from speaking out, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I feel they are protecting themselves and staying neutral.”
Whatever the verdict in this week’s case, you wouldn’t blame Frost if she were to quit British racing. It would represent a huge blow for a sport desperately trying to attract younger audiences and participants.
But to read last week’s evidence, you might interpret a toxic climate if you are different.
The British Horseracing Authority, the sport’s rulers, has concluded the culture of the weighing room “condones threatening behaviour and frowns upon the reporting of it”.
Another female jockey, Hannah Welch, gave evidence at last week’s hearing and spoke of an incident in her early 20s when she claimed she was shouted and sworn at by Dunne and left in tears.
The other jockeys looked on. No one, she said, stood up for her.
She has since quit. Another female jockey, Leonna Mayor, claimed on TV at the weekend that she’d been bullied by a trainer she wouldn’t name.
The sport has serious questions to answer. Frost is entirely right to stand up for what she believes in.