An examination of racing’s future workforce and fan base in a session titled “The Future” closed the business programme of the 39th Asian Racing Conference in Melbourne on 17 February.
UK Sky Sports Racing Broadcaster, Mr. Josh Apiafi, who also launched Racing Pathway in the UK, said looking to attract 18-year-olds to the sport was leaving it too late.
“We have got to start earlier. All of us engaged in our passions when we were growing up as 12, 13 and 14 year-olds and we can’t wait until we are 18. We have to start engaging them now,” he said.
Mr. Apiafi said there was a need to make the next generation the fans of the sport and there had to be a pathway designed to attract them.
“If you asked a thousand teenagers what they wanted to be when they grow up, I can pretty much guarantee that not one of them is going to say I want to run the amazing Flemington or the amazing Ascot or the fantastic Sha Tin,” he said.
“A few of them will stand up and say I wouldn’t mind running the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), Wembley Stadium or being part of Madison Square Garden. We need to become part of that option,” he said.
During the panel discussion, Mr. Neil Wilson, Victoria Racing Club Chairman, highlighted that the new generation of fans being pursued could also be the sport’s future employees.
“The characteristics are the same in terms of employing these potential fans and we will need a clear game plan in terms of future workforces. Shift to an outside-in view and horizontal versus vertical,” Mr. Wilson said.
A more diverse and inclusive workforce – which enables better decision-making – was the way of the future in all industries, and was an over-riding theme of the final session.
Mr. Apiafi said the Racing Pathway programme, which was put together four years ago in the UK, meant that regardless of colour, age, ethnicity or background there was a path for people toward racing and that UK focus groups, with teenagers, had revealed that coolness, diversity and inclusion, welfare, connectivity and sustainability were factors which most motivated their interactions.
The need for more women particularly in senior executive roles, as part of an overall strategy of diversity and inclusion in the racing industry, was outlined by Ms. Kate Roffey, who in 2021 became the first female president in the 163-year history of the Melbourne Football Club.
“I think diversity and inclusion are really important to be very aware of in your organisation and it isn’t just gender,” Ms. Roffey said. Organisations “need to know what they’re not” so they can “leap forward” rather than just trying to fix problems.
Ms. Raelene Castle, Group Chief Executive, Sport New Zealand, and Ms. Tallulah Wilson, Head of International, UK Tote Group and Racing Home Lead, Women in Racing, joined the panel discussion and reinforced this theme.
Ms. Castle felt that, in some cases, to affect real change and increase diversity in the workplace it can be necessary to employ persons of a particular sex or background. “Sometimes you need to force change,” she said.
Ms. Wilson also discussed some of the barriers which affect the retention of women in the racing industry, pointing to the difficulties faced by mothers of young children in the context of early starts.
“Why do we have to start yard work at 4.30 am when there’s 24 hours in the day?” she asked.
Ms. Kanako Ueda, Head, Management Planning Division, Japan Racing Association (JRA), presented to the session via a pre-recorded video, in which she outlined key JRA initiatives to increase diversity and build the workforce’s skillset through its talent exchange program.