This is the letter from the BHA to the Racing Post, in response to its headline on Thursday – “Civil war at BHA over future of chairman Harman”. The story appears to have hit the press from nowhere and I can find no evidence of the issues which have now come to light having been simmering away before making the front page two days running – Friday’s headline stating “Harman crisis deepens”. Its coverage has even overtaken the mass brawl at Goodwood and the Government’s announcement on maximum stakes for FOBT machines, which is expected next week.
On the face of it, you might be forgiven for thinking this isn’t earth shattering news. The allegation appears to be that BHA chairman, Steve Harman, acted with a potential conflict of interest when he hosted Alizeti consortium chief executive, Alex Frost, at the Cheltenham Festival in March and introduced Frost to culture secretary Matt Hancock on Gold Cup day. The significance of this is that the consortium is in talks to buy a share of the Tote and it is reported that this led to a complaint to the BHA board by one of the racecourse representatives involved in Btitbet, which runs a pool betting project at 55 tracks in competition to the Tote.
The Racing Post reports that it is understood whilst a sub-group set up to investigate the matter found on conflict, some board members have now alleged Harman mislead the board regarding how the meetings had come about and had not corrected the suggestion that Frost was one of Hancock’s constituents. This resulted in a board meeting to debate whether he had brought the BHA or racing into disrepute. It will meet again next week.
It appears to me the real problem lies not with what Harman has or hasn’t done, but with the way it has been handled. BHA shareholders – the Racecourse Association, Racehorse Owners Association, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and those representing trainers, jockeys and stable staff have expressed anger about the lack of disclosure of board developments. In traditional commercial structures this is the classic shareholder/ board battle, where the board says – we were appointed to do a job so let us get on with it and the shareholders say, we’ll hang on a minute we are the owners so we’re entitled to know.
The above letter, for which I grateful to https://ntfmuse.wordpress.com for publishing, refers to key concepts in the world of governance and regulation – due process, fairness and proportionality. However, the crucial one it has missed is – transparency. And until it appreciates the importance of this, I suspect the story won’t go away.