Since my last message, our industry has been in a deep, open and productive debate about whips.
Although the fine detail is yet to be nailed down, we are leaning toward a “wrist only” action.
This is short of the ban on whips which was supposed to be implemented on 1 September, but it is nonetheless a substantial animal welfare reform and a significant improvement in the image of our racing.
The unanimous decision by HRA Members at the annual general meeting in Adelaide last October was polarising in the industry and the broader community. Widely acclaimed by many and strenuously opposed by others, it resulted in some robust debate and there was no doubt a whip ban was not achievable at this time.
Many opponents of a ban conceded however that changing community standards meant further reform of whip rules was needed.
While the new rules have still to be formalised and adopted nationally, and an implementation date agreed, I want to thank the participants, drivers’ representatives, stewards and other administrators who have devoted considerable time – in a spirit of goodwill – to determining how we move forward on this contentious issue.
There is no doubt whip use is now an issue throughout the harness racing world, with administrators in most member countries of the International Trotting Association expressing their concern at the recent World Trotting Conference in Canada.
Apart from Norway, where whips have been banned in racing for many years, most countries concede reform of whip actions is imperative.
In Sweden there was a huge outcry after the Hambletonian was televised recently, even though the iconic race at the Meadowlands was won by a Swedish horse, Perfect Spirit. Viewers felt the Swedish driver used the whip too much and staged a protest at their major track, Solvalla, the first such protest in Swedish harness racing in more than a decade.
As a result, Swedish authorities are considering a ban all coverage of United States harness racing in what is a lucrative market for the American product.
Significant voices in the US are now also acknowledging that community expectations are relevant to whip use.
One of the most highly regarded and awarded drivers in North America, the recently retired John Campbell, speaking at the Conference Symposium, explained that while he believes strongly in retaining the whip for safety purposes, it had been his long held view that one handed whipping should not be allowed – nor should raising the whipping arm above the shoulder.
No one country is immune to global community expectations and we must continue to explore means of securing the sustainability of our industry.
I’m sure that, with the same foresight and goodwill already shown in Australia, we will continue to grapple with this difficult but vital issue.
As we put the detail to a possible wrist-only rule, we should keep in mind that our decisions are for the sake of our industry, to attract new young entrants, and to stay vibrant and viable.
I wish the industry the best.
And I look forward to a mutually respectful debate to resolve the wrist-only question and – at some future point – the basic question on whip-use that the AGM put on our table nearly a year ago.