The Chairman of the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) and Chief Executive Officer of The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, has outlined the key issues and challenges facing racing globally at the 39th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) in Melbourne on Wednesday, 15 February.
On the first day of the three-day business programme component of the ARC hosted by Racing Victoria at the Melbourne Convention Centre, Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges addressed more than 700 guests, including delegates from 35 countries, plus leaders in racing, other sports and government officials.
The theme of the business programme is ‘Breaking Barriers’, as the conference looks to identify the roadblocks in the future of racing and to identify proactive ways to break down those barriers.
In a scene-setting address, Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said that looking at key racing and breeding performance indicators, racing has successfully emerged from the COVID crisis and has shown great agility and resilience.
“However, beyond these figures, racing faces significant global challenges going forward which in my view cannot be solved without fundamental changes and strengthening of collaboration and joint efforts to address these challenges,” he said.
“The overall question I would like to raise is whether racing can move on to solve its structural problems and find strategic solutions to ensure its long-term viability?”
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges identified the nine key challenges he believes racing is facing as: industry fragmentation, integrity, illegal and offshore betting operators, social acceptability, competition, ageing customer base and the needs of Gen Z, branding racing as a global sport, sustainability, and human resources.
He told the session that joint efforts were required to ensure global standards in rules and practices to safeguard the integrity of the sport; to fight the illegal betting market; to brand racing as a sport with the highest integrity; to market racing as a global and socially acceptable sport and to reach out to a wider and younger audience.
To achieve this, racing would need to build a new technology framework to enable the sport to grow international wagering via global simulcasts, commingling, and the World Pool.
The sport also required a technology platform capable of embracing Web 3.0 development and to be relevant to Gen Z. Another objective identified by Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges is to guide the breeding and racing industry towards greater sustainability and to reach Carbon Zero by 2040 to ensure the long-term future of the sport.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges closed by saying that although racing faced many challenges, he felt strongly that they could be solved if they were tackled globally in a collaborative and unified way.
After his keynote presentation, Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges was joined on a panel by the ARF Vice-Chairman and President and CEO of the Japan Racing Association, Masayuki Goto; Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority, Julie Harrington; Chairman of the Australian Turf Club, Peter McGauran; former Victorian Minister for Racing, Martin Pakula; CEO of Harvey Norman and Co-Owner (with Gerry Harvey) of Magic Millions, Katie Page-Harvey; and Chairman of JAM TV and media personality, Eddie McGuire.
The panel, moderated by journalist and former BBC News presenter David Eades, discussed several key issues, including making racing more attractive for the younger generation, horse ownership initiatives, improving the fan experience, and horse welfare.
On issues regarding the marketing of racing and appealing to new fans, Mr. McGuire said racing needs to be bolder and “get on the news”. He said administrators need to “lean forward” and get the attention of people” by telling the “truth behind the stories”.
Mr. Pakula said challenges that faced racing can't just be viewed in a national context, but also an international one. "It's about what do we have to do to attract the next generation of punters and next generation of racegoers," he said. "It's about the way we market, the way we use digital technology. And we have to make racing an attractive proposition for that generation and I think the key to all that is animal welfare."
Mr. Goto was of the view that "as much effort as possible should be made to develop a pattern system that is easy to understand for racing fans" to help build the sport’s transparency and popularity.
One successful initiative which had increased the popularity of horse ownership were micro-syndicates, which Ms. Harrington believed were "here to stay" because they made racing more accessible. “They have helped more people and younger people get involved in ownership,” she said.
As part of reaching a wider audience, Ms. Page-Harvey said racing cannot afford to take its foot off the pedal as it looks to grow female participation and presence in the industry. "You can't stop. That's the point. Until you see women up there in the same percentage in whatever part of this business as men, you can't stop,” she said.
Mr. McGauran highlighted the importance of a good race day experience, opining that the one thing that everyone wanted was crowds. “There is nothing more dispiriting than walking onto a half-empty racecourse on a good day’s racing, only because we know what a great sport and spectacle it is and we don’t want people to miss out on it,” he said.