Post By: David D. Dodge
While compliance officers have been focusing on compliance with NCAA rules and regulations within the athletic departments of major colleges and universities for decades, only recently have we begun to see compliance and ethics programs developing in other segments of the sports industry. A few examples are included below:
- In 2018, following allegations of sexual harassment and reports of a toxic culture within its front office, the Dallas Mavericks took steps to implement many of the essential components of a compliance program;
- In 2019, the NFL created a new position in its New York League office, Director, Compliance;
- In 2019, the owner of the Houston Astros announced his intent to establish a compliance program in response to the team’s sign-stealing scandal;
- In 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NBA implemented a “Compliance Program in a Bubble” to assure teams’ compliance with its Health and Safety Guidelines;
- In 2020, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced its hiring of a new Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for its National Governing Bodies;
- In 2020, MLB required each of its teams to designate a compliance officer to ensure that the players and team staff would adhere to the League’s health and safety protocols as detailed in its manual for play during the pandemic;
Now with the likely passage of legislation to reform horse racing in the U.S., track owners and managers will need to establish new programs to assure compliance with any new national standards, rules and regulations as may be promulgated by the legislation. The back-story follows.
In a rare example of bipartisan lawmaking, legislation to reform horse racing in the U.S. is making significant headway in Congress. Members of both the House and Senate have introduced similar bills to address the incautious drugging of race horses and to improve the safety of the tracks they run on.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., whose state is home to some of the nation’s top breeding outfits and the Kentucky Derby, has stated publicly that the industry has been plagued by disunity. After reading a Washington Post editorial questioning whether racing should remain legal, he told stakeholders “in the strongest possible way that they needed to get together or I would try to do it for them.” McConnell added: “And they did get together.” McConnell went on to say he hopes to win passage of the legislation before the close of the current congressional session.
A series of recent horse fatalities occurring at Southern California racetracks-most notably Santa Anita Park and Del Mar – has brought the issue of horse safety center stage. These two racetracks are considered to be among the top facilities in the country, and the fatalities have garnered negative press and criticism from horse advocacy groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among others.
Astonishingly, depending on who is reporting, as many as 800 racehorses are injured and die every year, with a national average of about two breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts. According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, nearly 10 horses died every week at American racetracks in 2018.
According to writers Sara Amundson and Kitty Block, “there hasn’t been a better time or opportunity, to reform horse racing. The sport has been plagued by high-profile scandals, including a wave of horse deaths and the indictments earlier this year of trainers and veterinarians in a doping scandal. These incidents have finally focused the spotlight on problems that have long flooded horse racing, drawing criticism and calls for change within the industry.” Amundson and Block further write that a big part of the problem in the industry has been the lack of clear standards for medications trainers use to mask pain or enhance the performance of horses. Currently, unscrupulous owners and trainers can move their racehorses from state to state to avoid jurisdictions with stricter standards, thus avoiding penalties while the doping of their horses continues.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020, which has 260 co-sponsors, would give the task of implementing an anti-doping and medication program to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. This is the agency appointed to handle drug testing for all U.S. Olympic athletes. Under the Act, a new authority would be established that would be responsible for, among other things:
- Implementing, publishing and maintaining rules regarding substances, methods and treatments administered to thoroughbred race horses;
- Establishing uniform rules imposing sanctions for those who violate the rules;
- Establishing racetrack safety regulations, including more oversight of racetrack surfaces, which are responsible for some race horse injuries and deaths;
As currently written, The Horseracing and Integrity Act of 2020, is designed to improve safety protections for race horses in the U.S. While the Act enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, it is also endorsed by Churchill Downs, Inc., the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby, The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
It appears the government is now taking serious steps to intervene and assure that national standards are created to protect horses and to prevent wrongdoing by owners, trainers and even veterinarians. The next step should be for all race tracks to voluntarily develop their own preventive programs – including effective compliance and ethics programs-which are serving a growing number of sports organizations across the U.S in promoting safety, integrity and fairplay.