UK weighing rooms are to be upgraded as part of a long-term programme of improvement works to modernise and future-proof facilities across all British racecourses.
A cross-industry group of jockeys, racecourses and the BHA has worked since March 2021 to agree a clear programme of objectives, aimed at meeting the current and future needs of jockeys of all ages and genders.
Under these plans, the weighing and changing room areas will be reconfigured in line with new minimum standards, delivering greater consistency across all British racecourses and meeting the evolving requirements of professional sports venues.
Some of the upgrades are immediate priorities, such the introduction of key safeguarding measures to provide private changing and shower facilities for jockeys, particularly for under-18s, but also for any jockey who wishes to use them.
The safeguarding changes will be implemented by 1 February 2022, together with the permanent closure and removal of racecourse saunas, which have been out of operation since COVID-19 safety measures were introduced in June 2020.
The remainder of the adaptations will be introduced on a phased basis, with racecourses set to review their existing provision and, where necessary, develop plans to ensure that by October 2024, each weighing room includes:
• additional private changing and shower facilities in male and female changing rooms, following the initial increase by February 2022
• shared communal rest, food provision, and warm-up areas for jockeys
• new communal working space for valets, equally accessible from both female and male changing rooms
• sufficient flexibility to adapt changing room sizes according to varying numbers of participants and to changing societal needs.
Some courses have already taken significant steps towards delivering the new safeguarding minimum standards, with improvement work either underway or already close to completion.
The Racecourse Association is working with all courses to develop a funding proposal to support the wider reconfiguration.
In the meantime, all racecourses have carried out risk assessments and, alongside adherence of minimum safeguarding standards, are applying best practice guidance to protect and support jockeys while the wider structural and layout changes are delivered.
Discussions are also ongoing with jockey and trainer representatives about future weight structures, with jockeys having been supported through the pandemic with additional weight allowances.
BHA Chief Operating Officer, Richard Wayman, said: “These agreed upgrades are the product of cross-industry collaboration, with jockeys, racecourses and the BHA working together since the beginning of this year.
“The recommendations, which have been endorsed by industry leaders, will deliver substantive improvements to meet the evolving requirements of a modern weighing room environment, catering not just for today’s human athletes, but also future proofing for the next generation.”
PJA Executive Director (Racing), Dale Gibson, said: “Having consulted with our Members, the PJA supports the permanent closure of saunas. 88% of the 190 Jockeys who responded to our recent survey voted for their removal, with just 8% wanting them to remain. The COVID Weight Allowance structure is currently being debated amongst industry representatives, with no immediate changes agreed, it is vital that in remains in some shape or form.
“We have been lobbying for major improvements to facilities, particularly for our female riders, for years. Progress until now has been disappointing, but we welcome the change in approach and a lot of work has gone into the creation of this plan.
“The agreed improvements contained within it will bring all venues up to a defined minimum standard and the result will be improved facilities and a far more professional working environment for all our members”.
RCA Chief Executive, David Armstrong, said: "The RCA welcomes the announcement of the long-term plan to upgrade weighing rooms across Britain's 59 racecourses. This presents a significant milestone and many months of hard work by the PJA, RCA, BHA plus jockey and racecourse representatives.
“The initial stage of meeting all ongoing safeguarding requirements is due to be completed by February which will include the welcome removal of saunas. The outcome of this project will be the creation of significantly improved weighing and changing room facilities that are in keeping with other elite and professional sports.”
Commenting on the decision to remove racecourse saunas, Dr Jerry Hill, BHA Chief Medical Adviser, said: “Saunas have been out of operation throughout the pandemic, which has presented the opportunity for a wider discussion about their long-term future in the context of making weight safely.
“Acute dehydration, such as that following sauna use, shortly before racing has been shown to reduce performance as it has a negative impact on reaction time and strength. There have been reports of increased falls and by extension injuries in jockeys who have suddenly dehydrated to make weight.
“There are safe and effective methods of maintaining weight healthily through fitness and nutrition and this bespoke support is available to jockeys through the PJA Nutrition Team as well as at the IJF Centres”.