Who am I… What am I doing here… What am I going to do next?
If you know the answer to any of these questions, please let me know – it would be great to find out. If you happen to know where I live, perhaps you could deliver me home too. I’m sure my family will be grateful.
As it happens, the British Horseracing Authority is leading a team which is asking the same set of questions about our sport. Not the one about where they live, because we all know that the BHA’s head office is at 75 High Holborn, but the other ones: who are we as a sporting collective, what are our values, what do we want to achieve?
It would be easy to dismiss the project, entitled ‘Racing Futures’, as navel-gazing or marketing humbug. But one of the sport’s drawbacks is that its supporters are so passionate, so focused on the prizes that we have marked out for ourselves, that we tend to gaze inward. We don’t spend enough time considering how we present ourselves to the wider world. The BHA’s objective is to establish a collective purpose, to develop a succinct and easily understood message that explains who we are and what we’re trying to do.
And it is important, because we live in a world that is changing – where pastimes which once resonated throughout society no longer seem so relevant. Take shopping for example: where once the majority of the population would take an obligatory stroll down a high-street packed with diverse emporia, we now consult our telephones and order whatever we need from Amazon (other online retailers are probably available, but I can’t actually think of any).
In a developed world, which has become dangerously detached from the countryside, a tiny percentage of the population has daily contact with horses. A hundred years ago it would be likely that the majority of people would see a horse every day – would probably pass one in the high-street as they did their shopping. Many people would have ridden a horse, or ridden in a vehicle that was pulled by one. So racing horses would have seemed an obvious leisure pursuit. Now that society’s connection with the horse is more distant, we need to check our relevance – give people a reason to engage.
So this week I accepted an invitation to be interviewed, for research purposes, by two ingenious and highly respected consultants, Richard Hytner and Inken Dachsel, who have been commissioned to help with the project. Former colleagues at Saatchi & Saatchi, Richard and Inken have worked with senior leaders from industries including policing, the law, academia, accounting and the media as well as a number of sports. They must have been very disappointed to get stuck in a room with me for the best part of an hour.
Even so, they didn’t let on and they listening politely to my ramblings. I’m not entirely sure what they’ll have gleaned, but after I’d used about 600,000 words to describe the purpose of horseracing, they asked if I could condense it to just six. Well what would you have said?
I’ve been thinking about it ever since and so far the best I’ve come up with is this: Horseracing contributes fun, romance and excitement.
If you have a Sharp Response (the name of our selection at Hexham on Saturday), please send us your answers on a postcard. Or direct them to Martin Fewell (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Director of Communications of the BHA, at 75 High Holborn.