Ask your non-racing friends how they see a day at the races, and you will hear the same words and phrases repeatedly: betting, tweed, toffs…we’ve all heard them all. It’s not hard to see how people reach the perception that racing is a sport for a certain demographic, given some of the newspaper front pages. Even the more ‘Instagram-friendly’ channels of coverage are fielding presenters who are, for the most part, white and dressed head to toe in labels.
To effect any kind of change on a large-scale level in an industry, an organisation or a sport, you need enthusiasm and drive: and Josh Apiafi has both in bucket loads. Noting that he and Rishi Persad were very often the only non-white faces in the room when it came to racing media, he realised that for many people, careers in racing are simply not even perceived to be an option.
“I started out with the aim of making racing more diverse, but you can’t just ‘ship in’ diversity overnight,” Apiafi tells First past the post. “You need to look at where racing fans come from and where there’s the potential for the next generation to get into racing, in order to make the sport more engaging for them and more reflective of society.”
He went out and spoke to Generation Z focus groups, who said that a sport that has a diversity and inclusion, sustainability and connectivity agenda would be key to attracting and engaging them. “It’s vital that racing reacts to this: we’re on a precipice. We’re relying on the media rights and financing coming from people betting and when that stops, we will fall off the cliff edge.”
So what is Apiafi’s solution? Through Racing Pathway, he has proposed three routes into racing to grow both job opportunities in the industry and the sport’s fanbase. These three pathways are Rider Employment, Non-rider Employment and Developing the Future Fan.
The Rider Pathway is already going from strength to strength, with schools and academies such as Riding A Dream making inroads into offering children from diverse backgrounds the chance to learn to ride. The other two paths, however, have “huge gaps”, Apiafi says. This year, he hopes to see the launch of the Non-Yard Based Apprenticeship and the Racing Media Academy, both aiming to offer non-riding opportunities to young people looking to embark on a career in horse racing.
Another key focus for 2022 is the Future Fan Pathway: around 15,000 children each year attend a Racing to School day at the races, but no real effort is made to engage them beyond one day out. Racing Pathway plans to launch Discover Racing, a week in August encouraging those children to return to the racecourse with their parents for an educational and fun insight into a sport that, as Apiafi says, often speaks a foreign language. From there, the children will be invited to join the Young Person’s Racing Club, due to launch at the end of 2022. “In a nutshell, this is a basic pathway that gives children and teenagers an engaging place to land within our sport, no matter their background,” he explains.
The Young Person’s Racing Club will be largely designed and driven by teenagers, and at the end of January TikTok is going to present to fifteen senior managers in racing on strategies for engaging the next generation through technology.
The Racing Foundation has now assisted with the funding of the project, putting £120k towards the Racing Media Academy, the Non-Yard Based Apprenticeship and Discover Racing, while the industry as a whole has proved enthusiastic about collaborating with Racing Pathway – but Apiafi wants to see complete buy-in and ownership of getting racing out to a new audience.
“By the end of the year, this project needs to be owned by the industry, so that the pathways and acquisition channels are part of everything racing does,” he says. “From ethnicity and disability to education and financial background, diversity and inclusion should just be a natural part of the conversation around the growth of the sport. We have to understand what society wants from us and look at how we can adapt, demystify and simplify.”
For more information about Racing Pathway, visit the website
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