Well by the time the verdict was delivered in the British Horseracing Association case alleging intimidation and harassment of Bryony Frost by fellow jockey Robbie Dunne, the battle lines were already drawn for the future.
These clearly placed many – and perhaps the overwhelming majority – of Frost’s weigh-room colleagues to one side, with the full support of retired champions including Richard Johnson, who testified for defending Dunne, and Tony McCoy. McCoy posted a tweet in favor of the weigh room valets on Tuesday, shortly after it emerged that three valets who had also testified had refused to work for Frost at Fontwell that afternoon. Her colleagues at ITV Racing, Alice Plunkett and (former jockey) Luke Harvey had previously prejudged the decision regarding the channel’s Opening Show program by repeatedly insisting that it had “nothing to do with Sexism “.
The extent of the fury – or perhaps, more accurately, denial – in the weigh room only became apparent on Thursday, however, when the Professional Jockeys Association responded to the panel’s finding that all charges against Dunne had been proven and that the culture of the weighroom of self-control conflicts “is deeply rooted and coercive, and in itself not conducive to the good health and development of modern horsemanship”. The PJA’s statement was as purposely inflammatory as it was broodingly defensive.
The independent disciplinary committee of the BHA had just convicted one of the members of the PJA guilty of a shameful seven-month campaign of bullying, harassment and intimidation against another of its members. This included vile mental and physical abuse and, perhaps most shamefully of all, “dangerous bullying” during races, which could cause serious injury or worse, not only to Frost, but to other horses and riders. of these races. These runners are also members of PJA.
And yet, the PJA statement only acknowledged that Frost had “felt bullied” by Dunne, not that she had been bullied, as the panel decided. Regardless of the possibility of a call, it showed at best an astonishing lack of awareness of how her choice of words would be perceived.
And that was only the beginning. The jockeys union says it “does not accept” the findings of the panel “with respect to the culture within and the collective behavior of the jumping jockeys’ weigh room. This is a grossly inaccurate and completely unfair portrayal of the weigh room and a conclusion that we believe to be at odds with the evidence presented. The panel itself – which is independent from the BHA – is accused of bias, saying it has a “long and striking history” of “never having criticized the BHA, its case management and its processes.” And the PJA is “appalled” that Louis Weston, the representative of the BHA, called the weighing room “rancid” during the procedure.
Remember, this is Bryony Frost’s union too, and her statement could hardly illustrate more clearly the vibe and atmosphere that awaits Frost, the brave whistleblower who stood up to a vicious tyrant, when she returns to work. in Doncaster on Friday.
There is no doubt that the Weigh Room, and the Jump Weigh Room in particular, is a unique working environment. Danger is everywhere every time a runner heads for the track, falls and injuries are commonplace.
Deaths and life-changing injuries are rare, but also sometimes unavoidable when riding half-ton horses at high speed on jumps. But his uniqueness does not put him above the laws of the land, and as panel chairman Brian Barker said Thursday, Dunne’s behavior “would not be tolerated in any other area of life or workplace. “.
There were desperately unfortunate procedural issues in the case, including several leaked statements taken during the BHA investigation which added to the pressure on everyone involved.
But that did not detract from the panel’s ability to make a fair and impartial decision based on the evidence presented to them, and while several current and former runners have supported Dunne’s version of events, it seems telling that in addition to Frost’s “truthful, careful, and convincing” testimony, it was the testimony of relative strangers that weighed more heavily on the panel.
Two runners who were nearby when Dunne launched a long tirade of crass abuse at Frost after a race in Stratford in July made witness statements to say they had heard “nothing out of the ordinary”. A fence guard who was a little further away, however, was adamant, and very convincingly, that he had heard something out of the ordinary. It was, he said, angry, aggressive and misogynistic language, and he added that if he had known of a “story” between the two riders he would have reported the incident immediately.
With the exception of Frost’s testimony, probably the most memorable and convincing statement from a witness was the response of Hannah Welch, a former amateur rider, when told that Dunne did not remember for seeing her in tears after another of her post-race scoldings. Looking straight into the lens, she said: “It’s … amazing,” revealing how raw the scars from that moment, which she says partly caused her to quit the sport, remain.
For the British Horseracing Authority, the task now is to follow up on its statement, welcoming the panel’s decision that it “sends a clear message that conduct of this nature cannot be tolerated in any work environment within our sport ”.
Her statement added that “progress is being made in improving the facilities used by our athletes, especially our participants” – another issue the PJA has insisted it has been raising for years – while “sport will put soon a collaborative, cross-sector code of conduct in place. ”However, how quickly all of this can be put in place while the jockeys themselves are in a state of denial remains to be seen.
Running is an age-old sport that has survived and thrived in an ever-changing world by adapting to upheavals and changes in attitude in the society that supports it. Another adaptation, to embrace modern ideas of how a safe and secure working environment should be, cannot come soon enough.