LIZZIE KELLY: Bryony Frost’s bullying allegations have shone a light on weighing room culture… in 2021 these facilities for female jockeys are NOT fit for purpose
- Bryony Frost’s bullying allegations have resulted in scrutiny on weighing rooms
- Weighing room facilities for young female jockeys are not fit for purpose
- The layout of such rooms can lead female jockeys into uncomfortable situations
- The facilities are not just substandard, they are outrageously unsatisfactory
Scrutiny on horseracing and in particular the weighing room culture has never been greater because of the allegations of bullying made by Bryony Frost against fellow jump jockey Robbie Dunne.
Frost’s allegations have also put the sport on trial.
Let me state now, some of the weighing room facilities and the situations they create, especially for young female jockeys entering the sport, are not fit for purpose. That rings true irrespective of the outcome of the Frost-Dunne case.
Lizzie Kelly (pictured) says weighing rooms are not fit for purpose for young female jockeys
I am not alone in being uncomfortable about how the British Horseracing Authority have handled the investigation into Frost’s complaints.
They seem to have lost control of the case, with leaked documents appearing in a Sunday newspaper and the unexplained departure of an employee who conducted the investigation. It has also taken far too long to bring this case to a conclusion.
There has been speculation about weighing room culture and accusations of a code of silence among jockeys when they are asked about the case.
All complaints must be thoroughly investigated, although a situation where bullying is routinely allowed and even condoned in the weighing room is not something I recognise.
But the physical layout of many weighing rooms can lead a young female jockey into potentially uncomfortable situations. That is a massive issue and needs to be addressed urgently.
Bryony Frost (pictured) has cast the issue under the spotlight after making bullying claims
The British Horseracing Authority is in the midst of a row after Frost made claims against Robbie Dunne (pictured)
For context, you need to understand how weighing rooms work. Some were designed when jockeys were still all men.
Male and female jockeys have separate changing areas. There may be communal zones, a tea room and TVs to watch the racing. Valets are employed and paid by riders on a sliding scale — depending on how many rides they have each day — to wash their racing kit and look after their equipment.
The valets are all male and are based in the men’s changing room. That means female jockeys have to go into the male changing room to do their job.
Bizarre as it may seem, there are positives in this for female jockeys. A race starts in the weighing room. That is where the jockeys discuss what is going to happen in the next race — who intends going out front or hold up their mounts. Whose mounts jump left or right, and which horses are keen and pull hard early in a race.
Those are just a few tactical things that help as you prepare mentally and start to focus on getting the spot you want down at the start. It would be a negative to be excluded from that chat. Let’s not pretend this is not intimidating, especially at the start of the career of a female jockey, maybe still in her teens. It can be intimidating for young male jockeys, too.
In the ladies’ changing room, we used to make a joke of going into the men’s changing room, especially with newer jockeys, so that they felt more at ease.
Weighing room culture can put young jockeys in awkward situations and needs to change
In a changing room, it can be overwhelming when you are surrounded by people you admire and revere, because of what they have achieved within the sport. It is that aura people talk about, But as a group, we would laugh with one another that those individuals weren’t so scary once you’d seen a few bare bottoms!
That situation will really surprise some people. The world is changing and that is not acceptable now.
I had my last ride in the 2019-20 season and it feels like even my experiences will soon be categorised as stories from ‘the good old days’. It’s hard to think of any other sport in which they would accept such a scenario.
The BHA have got to be stronger in pressing racecourses in improving facilities for all jockeys
Can you imagine the uproar if Emma Raducanu had to go into the men’s changing room before a match at Wimbledon next summer?
The BHA have got to be stronger in pressing racecourses to improve their facilities for all jockeys, but especially for female riders. Very often, the facilities for female jockeys are simply not up to scratch. Some are so cramped that they are like shoeboxes, with no saunas or TVs. At one track, the female jockeys even had to lobby for a working clock!
Too many racecourses have not committed to improving standards in the weighing rooms for the increasing number of female riders.
The facilities aren’t just substandard, they are outrageously unsatisfactory.