The COVID Pandemic has turned the world upside down. Even as we are struggling to bail out of the hardship caused by the lockdown and the economic upheaval, the thinking of people in some quarters too seems to have been adversely affected. At a time when there is need for compassion and simplification of things, the Bangalore Turf Club mandarins have come up with a lengthy application process for issue of jockeys` license in these hard times. However, the application for renewal of the trainer`s license remains a simple process.
Racing has come to a halt and the professionals and others associated with it are struggling to keep things going. In these troubled times, one expected the Bangalore Turf Club to release some of its funds to alleviate the problems of the lesser strata but it has remained unhelpful. They haven`t done anything to lesser lights including the jockeys who are the critical cogwheel of racing.
The top jockeys are well placed and they have the resources to take care of themselves. The majority are living a hand to mouth existence as there is no scope for earning any money. Mercifully, the Jockeys Association of India came to the rescue of these unfortunate people by giving them a loan of Rs 10,000 per month which is to be adjusted against their retirement benefit. The turf clubs on their part haven`t given any help but hell-bent on putting hurdles for their survival.
The new rules that the jockeys have to comply with for renewing their license are sure to deprive many of the struggling jockeys any chance of a livelihood. Apart from the many arbitrary provisions, there is a rule which mandates that a jockey must have completed a minimum number of rides. Imposing new conditions is not going to help as racing, if and when it resumes, is going to be a truncated one.
The jockeys who will not make the cut have a useful role to play in terms of helping the trainers to prepare the horses. They are the backbone of the trainers. The successful jockeys enjoy the fruits of hard work by these lesser lights who slog it out to eke out a living. These are the jockeys who have been licensed by the turf club themselves after due to process and as such, they cannot be expected to change jobs after being in the profession for a decade because the club has no commitment regarding their livelihood.
The trainers often get pulled up if their horses perform poorly when giving a chance to lesser lights in order to help them complete the minimum quota of rides. It is common to see in the race day reports which states that a trainer has been pulled up for putting an incompetent jockey. He would have been instructed to ensure that he puts only successful jockeys. Under such circumstances, you cannot mandate a minimum number of rides for eligibility to renew the license. Can you?
Interestingly, the rules state that a jockey applying for a license should be able to understand the conditions given in English and I would challenge if at least 50 per cent of the jockeys are able to read the document itself. The jockeys have to decide whether he qualifies for a license or not after going through the detailed instructions sheet. If they were so capable of reading and understanding, many of them would not have been in this profession in the first place.
The new licensing condition states that any jockey who has been suspended for one year for any infraction or has been fined Rs 50000 may find it tough to get his license renewed. When the authorities quantify a punishment and if the jockey has undergone the punishment, he should be eligible to apply.
The authorities themselves in their wisdom would have decided on the length of the punishment. It amounts to double whammy if you make such jockeys ineligible to apply for the renewal of the license. Double whammy means a situation that a person has to face in which two negative things happen at the same time or in succession.
As per the new rules, if a jockey has been pulled up many times for excessive use of the whip, he may become ineligible to apply for the license as it amounts to the cruelty of animals. And another interesting thing is whether the jockey has defaulted on any financial obligation. Many of the people making the rules themselves should seriously think whether this clause should be incorporated!
The Bangalore Turf Club should set up a counselling centre at its premises to help all the jockeys understand the conditions for the license because it is so complicated. The best course would be to simplify as before. The licensing conditions should not be used to settle a score because, under the amended rules, the Stewards can arrogate for themselves too much power for themselves at the expense of natural justice and fair play.
Many believe that the rules and regulations that are being enforced are a fall out of disharmony between the jockeys and a few members of the governing body at the BTC earlier this year post the lockdown. The best of our work comes in a crisis but not so at the BTC. The Stewards are doing little to get the sport back on its rails in difficult times. The COVID and the warped thinking of the Stewards will only damage the tottering sport further.
POSTSCRIPT: The Bangalore Turf Club had in the month of April had said that it was withdrawing the licenses of all jockeys with immediate effect. Normally, the licenses of jockeys are renewed in the month of May as the license lasts till the end of April. In this instance, there was no clarity whether the withdrawal of the license was for a finite period. And in the absence of the withdrawal of the notice, the jockeys who rode under BTC Rules of Racing last season are not eligible to apply for the license. The whole issue appears muddled with the authorities, as usual, being vague and careless.