DENIAL: PJA rejects weighing-room culture claims after Frost case
PA - Adam Davy
The Professional Jockeys Association rejected claims of a “rancid” weighing-room culture after Robbie Dunne was suspended for 18 months following a British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel hearing into allegations he bullied and harassed Bryony Frost.
An independent panel on Thursday found Dunne in breach on all four counts of conduct prejudicial to horseracing and as a result his licence will be suspended with immediate effect, with three months of the ban suspended. He has seven days to lodge an appeal.
The remark about a “rancid” culture in the weighing room was made in closing submissions to the panel on Wednesday by Louis Weston, representing the BHA.
The PJA had previously appealed for the case to be terminated after elements of a preliminary report were leaked to the press, but the head of the panel, Brian Barker QC, dismissed the notion that this could be perceived as a mitigating factor.
The PJA statement read: “Before the PJA responds to the disciplinary panel’s findings, we want to make it clear that the PJA has great sympathy with Bryony Frost and takes no issue with the fact that a complaint was taken to the BHA.
“Bryony felt bullied, it certainly took courage to go through the process she has and we do not doubt the isolation she has felt. The PJA entirely accepts that Robbie Dunne’s conduct as found by the disciplinary panel fell well short of the standard the PJA expects.
“All that said, the PJA does not accept the disciplinary panel’s findings in relation to the culture within and collective behaviour of the jump jockeys’ weighing room. It is a grossly inaccurate and wholly unfair representation of the weighing room and a conclusion we believe is at odds with the evidence presented.
“The PJA does not condone bullying or the use of the type of language the disciplinary panel has concluded was used. Bullying and the use of such entirely inappropriate language cannot and will not be tolerated.
“Whilst we reject the wholesale criticism of the culture within the weighing room, everything is not perfect. There are lessons to be learnt for the PJA and its members and we recognise change is needed. This starts with creating facilities that do not require female jockeys to be in the male jockeys’ changing room in order to do their job, but doesn’t stop there.”
The PJA also issued a statement on behalf of a number of female jockeys, which it said wished to remain nameless “having seen the reaction towards anyone who has expressed such views”.
The statement read: “Firstly we would like to reassure everyone that, on the whole, our experiences within the weighing room have been overwhelmingly positive.
“With regards to the hearing involving Robbie following a complaint about his conduct by Bryony, we are really disappointed with the way us and our male colleagues have all been portrayed by the BHA and subsequently reported in the media. From our understanding, what most people are upset about is why no one has spoken up to say they heard anything and why the weighing room ‘turned a blind eye’ to bullying.
“One thing to consider though is if anyone thinks they heard something but don’t know for sure what was said or genuinely cannot recall, how are they supposed to stand up and be cross examined when they don’t know exactly what happened?
“It is sad that whilst one woman is being praised for speaking her truth, the rest of us have been shamed for doing the same. At no point have we condoned what is alleged to have happened – we just haven’t been able to give any evidence to support it as we don’t have any. If anyone heard anything and has held on to it, they are letting the whole weighing room down and it would be hugely disappointing.
“They (BHA) have let both Bryony and Robbie down by taking so long to deal with this, leaving it festering in the air between colleagues and in the meantime being the ultimate cause of leaks to the press. Finally, they have let us down by calling us and our male friends and colleagues liars and accusing us of turning a blind eye to bullying. You cannot turn a blind eye to something you have not seen.”
Grade One-winning rider David Bass, jumps president of the PJA, said he felt both Frost and Dunne have been let down by the BHA.
“I think it (the handling and timing) has been an absolute disgrace. I have to be careful not to get too emotive about the whole thing. I feel the way it has been handled has been shocking,” Bass told Racing TV.
“There are a lot of bitter and angry people who work in the weighing room and the language which has been used by the representative of the BHA and appeared in the papers is a disgrace.
“To call our culture rancid is disgraceful. There are certain things you could use rancid for, our facilities would be one, but to target our culture as rancid is not on and it’s very unfair to target the whole weighing room.
“This has nothing to do with Bryony and Robbie, that word has been used to target the whole weighing room. It is grossly unfair.
“None of us are condoning bullying, but to target the whole weighing room with disgusting language is completely unfair.
“As far as help is concerned we have been led poorly by the BHA. We asked for better facilities five years ago and it hasn’t happened. If we’d had better facilities this might never have happened.
“What we need is strong leadership, that is what we are lacking.”
Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, spoke of a “potentially seminal moment for the sport”.
She said: “The first thing I would like to do is praise Bryony Frost for having the courage to come forward and raise her concerns. This was not easy to do, but sport needs brave pioneers such as her if change is ever going to be made.
“The investigation carried out by the BHA and the serious charges brought highlight that there is simply no room for conduct of this nature within our sport. We believe that this is an important moment for our industry.
“We understand that, for the vast majority of those who work in the weighing room it is a positive, supportive, welcoming place, and we express our respect and admiration for the skills and courage of our participants.
“However, in any environment there are inevitably going to be some people who don’t feel comfortable, and there are occasionally going to be times when lines are crossed. It is essential that when something does go wrong that people feel supported in calling it out. We would call on everyone in the industry to recognise this.
“When a line is crossed there must be avenues in place for those affected to call out bad behaviour, and know that they are going to be supported in doing so. That is one of the most important things I want people to take from this whole issue – that it is right and correct to come forward and make your voice heard, and no one should feel threatened or intimidated in doing so.
“This issue is about far more than just what happens in the weighing room. This is potentially a seminal moment for the sport, one where we stand up together and say that conduct of this nature simply cannot be tolerated in any environment.
“How we respond to it as an industry will be extremely important. We have an opportunity now to change the sport for the better.”
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