LIZZIE KELLY: I did not experience the ‘rancid’ culture of the weighing room but the Dunne-Frost case has highlighted a climate of distrust and the BHA need to rebuild their relationship with jockeys
- Bryony Frost was within her rights to take her complaint to the governing body
- I do not agree with some of the alarming characterisations of the weighing room
- Result of the hearing could see an already very difficult situation get much worse
Passions are running high following the case involving Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne, which will not help answer one of the most important questions — where do we go from here?
Let me say straight away: bullying is something I utterly condemn. It is unacceptable in any form.
Frost felt she had been victimised and harassed by Dunne. She was within her rights to take her complaint to the British Horseracing Association, and an independent panel have found Dunne guilty and handed him a significant 18-month suspension.
I am not one of the ‘what happens in the weighing room should have stayed in the weighing room’ brigade.
Robbie Dunne (left) was found guilty of ‘bullying and harassing’ fellow jockey Bryony Frost
But I do not agree with some of the alarming characterisations of the weighing room that have emerged during and after the case.
The result could be an already very difficult situation getting worse, with relations between the BHA and jockeys breaking down.
The way the BHA have dealt with this case has helped foster a situation where virtually everyone who comments is subjected to abuse on social media. Their own barrister described the culture within the weighing room as ‘rancid’ but, from my experience, I do not recognise that nor the ‘deep-rooted and coercive’ atmosphere description that also emerged.
I am not alone. The female jockeys collectively put out a statement on Thursday saying the same. They did not put their names to it because of the hostile reaction they feared would be directed towards them.
On race days at courses, BHA employees are everywhere. They include starters, clerks of scales and stewards. If the ‘rancid’ description of the weighing room and its inhabitants was true, surely some of those employees would have reported it back to BHA headquarters. It would have been their duty to do so? But it has not been.
Frost was within her rights to take her complaint to the British Horseracing Association
The statements made about weighing-room culture have done nothing to help the situation. BHA chief executive Julie Harrington tried to cool down comments made in the hearing but the damage had already been done and the word ‘rancid’ will be lodged in jockeys brains for a while.
By generalising about weighing-room culture, the BHA are helping to foster the idea that the place is full of riders who think bullying and humiliating is no issue and might try it themselves.
At times it has felt some jockeys who gave evidence have been subject to character assassination on social media. I worry some of the venom on those social platforms could spill on to tracks, especially those where riders have to walk through the crowd and past crowded bars to reach the paddock.
That is an issue because relationships between the jockeys and the governing body need to improve to address vital issues that have emerged from the Dunne-Frost case.
After years of BHA inaction on pushing through improvements in weighing room facilities — particularly for female jockeys which I recently described as ‘not fit for purpose’ — this case has accelerated change. It is hopelessly overdue, with female jockeys having to go into male changing areas.
The 26-year-old jockey, pictured racing at Huntingdon, can now carry on with her career
Dunne’s bullying behaviour is indefensible but if he genuinely felt he and his horses were at risk as a result of Frost’s riding, he should have felt able to report that to officials in confidence rather than taking matters into his own hands.
How can that climate be created if the BHA and the Professional Jockeys Association have no confidence in one another? At present that looks like the case. The fact a BHA report containing the evidence presented to the hearing leaked out to a newspaper also eroded faith between the parties. In part, it led to a trial by media and social media.
Ironically, the abusive reaction to some of the witnesses has been a form of online bullying to a case involving bullying.
Hopefully, Bryony can now carry on with her career but rebuilding the damaged relationship between jockeys and the BHA will need good and understanding leadership to move forward.