THE results of a jockeys’ survey over the closure of saunas on British racetracks have been twisted by racing’s power brokers to justify their removal.
But what is equally disturbing for members of the Professional Jockeys’ Association is that its own board – or at least some of them – appear at some stage to have done exactly the same.
PAJockeys want saunas back to help them lose pounds to make weight[/caption]
Indeed, my investigations suggest that in recent times PJA hierarchy, rather than its members, had already decided saunas would go prior to the survey even being dished out. Only they know why.
I had to dig deep, but I have eventually found a crucial questionnaire sent to riders in November 2021.
Among a number of questions, the seventh read: “Do you support the permanent removal of saunas from racecourses?”
That sounds simple enough. But this was not a ‘yes/no’ situation.
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Jockeys were given a multiple choice of seven answers. Of the 190 who took part, only 27 answered yes. That’s just over 14 per cent.
The majority, 71, said yes if the Covid weight allowance of 3lb continued. And 65 said yes if the Covid weight allowance continued and there was warm up equipment and improved food.
In other words, 136 of the 190 jockeys who took part in that survey did not vote for saunas to be removed without a caveat. A further 15 gave a straight ‘no’.
Yet immediately afterwards the PJA sent its members the following: “The results were overwhelmingly in favour of the permanent removal of saunas – 88 per cent voted for their removal.”
No they did not!
What will surprise many is that members of the PJA were also not given much time to gather their thoughts. It appears to have been a rushed job.
The survey began on 10 November 2021, and closed on 15 November 2021.
Jockeys got two messages via Whatsapp about it with a link. Eight days after the survey the PJA Board made the decision to tell the British Horse Racing Authority to remove saunas.
This is all bizarre in the extreme.
That survey alone has resulted in a BHA spokesman saying: “Saunas haven’t been used on British racecourses since before the pandemic and, in November 2021, the BHA, PJA [Professional Jockeys Association] and RCA [Racecourse Association] agreed that they should be removed completely.”
Wilf Walsh, chair of the Racecourse Association, said: “When we took saunas out there was full agreement of the PJA at the time. They agreed 100 per cent. We did that and raised the weight allowances.”
The PJA may have agreed. Its members well and truly did not.
For those of you unsure what is going on, I revealed exclusively in this column last week that another PJA survey put to its members recently showed the majority wanted saunas back on British racecourses.
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Many were able to accept the removal of saunas as long as their Covid allowance was able to remain.
But subsequently what has happened is they have lost both. And that has caused the uproar.
Some of the most eloquent and passionate riders out there like Tom Marquand, Richard Kingscote, Adam Kirby and Neil Callan have publicly voiced their reasoning.
Racing’s powers that be refuse to budge quoting the 2021 survey. And in some ways it’s easy to understand why.
But quite simply the jockeys have been stitched up by everyone, including their own leaders.
They did not vote for saunas to go. They voted for them to go with provisos.
A document I have shows there was a PJA, NTF (National Trainers’ Federation) and BHA meeting on 20 October, 2021 where those involved ‘raised concerns that some jockeys would not be supportive of removing saunas, and that the PJA will ensure all members have a chance to feedback their opinions before a decision is made’.
This ‘flagging up’ is strange in itself. As the PJA leaders knew full well most jockeys were against the idea, suggesting those at the helm had already made their minds up.
Two months later saunas were gone.
As I have said, what most upsets jockeys right now is none of them were ever told saunas and the allowance would go. Just one or the other.
Jockeys are struggling to get their heads around the BHA and RCA telling them otherwise.
I asked Dale Gibson, who was at the PJA for the 2021 survey and is the current interim CEO of the body, to comment.
I asked Dale Gibson, who was at the PJA for the 2021 survey and is the current interim CEO of the body, if he specifically wanted saunas taken away two years ago.
He did not reply to that question in particular, but sent the following.
He said: “In our view, it is not sufficient to argue that, because jockeys voted previously to support the closures, there can now be no further inquiry into their usefulness.
“As you will be aware, the jockeys’ decision was predicated on retaining the personal ‘Covid’ allowance in some form which was removed soon after.
“That allowance had been in play for 23 months following the resumption of racing in June 2020 (Flat), prior to the current structure starting 15 months ago.
“Jockeys have tried to work with the format, it’s fair to say a number have adapted, however, an increased number need the option of a sauna on race day as part of their daily weight management.
“The issue for many is a combination of the volume of the fixture list, time constraints in the morning riding work, travel to races – slightly more so on the Flat.
“But at the heart of our argument over the return of racecourse saunas is new evidence that suggests that their removal is causing poor mental wellbeing.
“For those in the sport with no understanding of mental health issues this might just sound like psychobabble.
“However, there remains no doubt in our minds, and in the minds of the expert psychologists we consulted, that the most urgent medical issue threatening the health of our members is that of mental anxiety and stress due to the shift in responsibility, loss of control and lack of supervision that the loss of racecourse saunas combined with the removal of the full Covid allowance has provoked.
“The lack of saunas has meant a shift in the burden to an increase in unregulated use of hot baths, sweat suits etc.
“In the world of clinical psychology, this is described as ‘psychological agency’. The jockeys might have a sense of ownership of their dehydration but, their self-efficacy has been reduced.
“It’s therefore no surprise that we have seen a 60 per cent increase this year in the number of our members seeking mental health support.”
It’s time for common sense to prevail. Jockeys need a sauna on each track in the UK due to the nature of the racing schedule and travel commitments they face.
The PJA has failed its members in this regard. Now the BHA, RCA and PJA need to bang their heads together and move forward – that must mean the return of saunas.
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