The Professional Jockeys Association has called on the British Horseracing Authority and racecourses to reconsider their position on saunas.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the PJA said the permanent closure of the on-course facilities “has created physical and mental wellbeing issues for jockeys that far outweigh any perceived risk of dehydration by sauna use”.
Minimum riding weights for both Flat and Jump jockeys were raised 2lb by the BHA last year after the decision was taken at the end of 2021 to remove saunas completely from racecourses.
A 3lb allowance was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to compensate for the lack of saunas, but the PJA now says it should “have insisted on cast-iron guarantees from the BHA and others that the Covid weight allowance would remain in force before accepting the removal of saunas”.
The statement goes on to say: “The PJA is in no doubt, having consulted with senior psychologists, that the most urgent medical issue threatening the health of jockeys is that of the anxiety and stress associated with the need to make weight.
“Jockeys are using a range of inappropriate and more risky methods including very hot baths, use of sweat suits whilst driving, restricting fluid intake for long periods of time, or even flipping.”
The PJA is calling for new research into saunas to “investigate the regulated use of on-course saunas in the jockeys’ workplace, understand the physical and psychological impact, and consider the jockeys’ loss of agency that has been triggered by the loss of saunas”.
The BHA insists decisions concerning racecourse saunas and rider weight allowances have been based on “expert medical evidence and following extensive engagement with and full support from the PJA” – including the decision to close the saunas after the pandemic.
A statement said: “For the past year, the BHA with the PJA and others has been working intensively and at pace – taking an evidence-based approach – to develop short and long-term proposals to support jockeys in managing their weights. At no point in that process were saunas put forward as a credible proposal.
“In calling for the reinstatement of saunas, the PJA has not only reversed its public position but also undermined a huge body of work undertaken in a spirit of genuine goodwill.
“It is simply false to present the return of saunas as a quick and easy fix for jockeys’ weight management, not least because that ignores the obvious significant practical and economic challenges posed by such a demand.
“But more importantly, it ignores all of the medical advice which was considered by the BHA, and PJA, ahead of the decision to remove saunas.
“That expert advice was clear that acute dehydration immediately prior to competition could reach levels where it represents a safety risk to horses and jockeys. That expert advice was also significantly more extensive than the one study mentioned in the PJA statement.”
The BHA added it is “committed to the safety, welfare and mental wellbeing of racing’s participants and fully aware of the concerns that have been raised by jockeys”.
The statement concluded: “That is why we have spent significant time in the past year working the PJA, IJF and others to find sustainable short and long-term solutions to this issue.
“These discussions centred on further adjustments to the weight allowances for a time-limited period, to support rider wellbeing while a safer and sustainable approach can be agreed. Until very recently all parties were committed to this process and the return of saunas was not presented as a credible part of that approach.
“We remain committed to working with the PJA and others to discuss any reasonable compromises. With goodwill on all sides we are optimistic we can agree practical short and longer-term measures in the best interests of jockey’s physical and mental wellbeing.”