Racing Needs Reform

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Nero, we are told in the history books, fiddled while Rome was burning. This has become a by-word for any form of activity which is unimportant while matters of great importance await performance. And into the Nero category falls the engagement of the celebrated British jockey Charlie Smirke to ride this season in Mauritius and to, as the Daily Express reported him as saying, advise on how racing in Mauritius can be improved.

Turf Time: Band Master winning the Princess Anne Plate Champ de Mars – 1958 – Pic

Mr Smirke will doubtless confine his advice to matters of racehorse breeding and training of apprentices. The organisational set-up of racing in Mauritius will certainly be outside the scope of his advice. Yet it is this very organisational set-up which is in most from need of reform.

Referring to race crowds at Brighton, Hugh Massingham said in the Observer on 12 August 1956, “One cannot help feeling that something is wrong… The days when racing was the sport of a small, rich circle have gone, but the authorities still behave as if our coarse tumultuous democracy did not exist. It is high time they did something about it.”

Mr Massingham’s words are applicable equally forcefully to racing in Mauritius.

The two Clubs — Turf and Jockey — each year import racehorses from France and England. These horses are allotted to one or other of the six recognised stables (écuries). The Clubs make advances to the écuries, who reimburse the advances at the end of the season. Jockeys are engaged from France or Australia, with passages (by sea or air) paid.

With the Clubs importing the horses and allotting them to the écuries, it means that despite the apparent different ownership of the horses, all are actually under the same ownership!

And whichever horse wins a race, the prize-money goes to help to reimburse the advances made by the Clubs!

With all the jockeys being engaged from abroad, every jockey is white. (Presumably the horses have a colour bar too!). Nobody can explain why this should be; during the war, Mauritians rode as jockeys, so why not now? Surely the length of time that there has been racing in Mauritius — over a century — has been enough to establish a tradition of local jockeyship? And anyway, why should the white jockeys from abroad be paid five and six times as much as the Mauritian jockeys were paid to ride during the war?

Not only are non-whites debarred from riding; they are also debarred from membership of the Turf Club, which is one of the whites’ jealously guarded preserves. Unfortunately, the Governor, by becoming a Patron of the Club, gives apparent countenance to this state of affairs: it is a pity that he cannot withhold his patronage from a Club which practises a colour bar. The Turf Club leases the Champ de Mars, which is municipal and therefore public property, from the Municipality of Port Louis, which should surely be able in some way to bring pressure on the Club to end its colour-consciousness: e.g. by refusing to continue the lease unless the colour bar is abolished.

Despite the operation of the colour bar as regards membership, the Clubs have no objection to taking money from coloured and Indian persons. Sweepstakes, betting, lotteries and pools, in addition to gate money, bring in (it is estimated) at least half a million rupees a year to the Clubs. And most of this money comes from the coloured and Indian sections of the population who are denied, however, any say in the running or organisation of racing.

The pools, etc., are lucrative to their organisers; I have before me an advertisement which recently appeared in Le Mauricien, announcing that four pool firms —Joseph Merven, Marcel Carver, Ah Chin and Populaire — have avec l’autorisation des Clubs introduced a new form of pool qui permettra au joueur de marquer de UN à 729 différentes combinaisons sur cette même forme. It is thus made very easy for the joueur (‘punter’ as we say in England) to have a bet and contribute to the profits of the pools organisers and indirectly to the funds of the Clubs whose names appear on the advertised pools coupons in addition to the names of the organisers.

Yet despite the way in which the general population contributes to the running of the Clubs, organisation and control of racing remain in the hands of the Whites. In a democracy, it is absolutely wrong that this should remain so. No longer should racing remain the sport of a small, rich circle as far as its control is concerned. It has become the sport of poor as well as rich, but the racing authorities still refuse to admit it. They continue in their blinkered autocracy; when will we see a determined stand against the colour-conscious Clubs?

Racing is in need of reform. Charlie Smirke is an ideal man to advise on technical matters: but he cannot, obviously, tender advice about the abolition of colour-consciousness. That reform must come from within.

At the beginning I referred to Smirke’s engagement as having a Nero-like quality. By this I mean that, with so much in Mauritius that needs reform, it is ironic to find a superfluous activity (whose cessation would not affect the economy of Mauritius one bit) being chosen as the first to warrant the attention of an outside expert. Then nabobs of the Clubs have shown enterprise in getting Smirke to visit Mauritius; they can be hoping that he will be an attraction sufficient to recoup their expenses in engaging him. May we hope that those same nabobs will be equally ready to lay out their money when schemes in the Five-year Plan come to need financing? An investment in the future of Mauritius would be more highly estimable than an investment merely in the future of a colour-conscious sporting club.

5th Year – No 214
Friday 12th September, 1958

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