South Africa Aims To Grow Participation Of Female Jockeys With Lifetime Weight Allowance - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

South Africa Aims To Grow Participation Of Female Jockeys With Lifetime Weight Allowance

Female jockeys in South Africa will now receive a lifetime weight allowance of 1.5 kg (about 3.3 lbs), beginning on Aug. 1, 2022, according to a ruling issued last Friday by the country's racing regulator, the National Horseracing Authority. The NHA was widely criticized across social media for its decision.

On Monday, the NHA posted an editorial on its website defending the new weight allowance. Penned by NHA chief executive Vee Moodley, the editorial follows below:

The first view points to the fact that in all elite sports, female athletes are at a physical disadvantage. While recognizing that physical strength is not the be all and end all in racing and that the ability of the horse, technical expertise and race management are all major factors, the difference between winning and losing often rests on fine margins and the physical element cannot be ignored.

To discuss strength then we should acknowledge that pound-for-pound muscle in men and women has almost the same strength. The crucial variable is the quantity of muscle on the frame of both sexes – not the quality of that muscle.

Testosterone is the hormone crucial to building muscle on the bodies of both sexes. Men typically produce 10 times more testosterone than women, hence building more muscle on their bodies. However, in a career that often forces men to keep their weight artificially low the strength levels between a very lightweight man versus a physically fit woman with good nutrition could be much more similar than you might typically find in other sports.

Research has shown that males have ten times more testosterone than females and demonstrate a 10-12 percent performance gap between elite men vs elite women. However, this performance gap is based on maximum power output in non-weight category athletes where both muscle mass and fat mass are not managed within small margins. When looking at the pound to pound of muscle between elite males and females in endurance sports where muscles are small and lean and body fat is low, performance gaps in strength between genders become smaller. However, differences in VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption) still exist between male and female athletes at endurance levels. 

The core issue is the lack of opportunities for female jockeys.

There are two schools of thought as to why this is the case. The counter argument is that female riders have proved to be the equal of men when given the chance, but have been denied equality of opportunity in terms of numbers and quality of rides by an anti-female bias that has prevented female jockeys from progressing up the ranks.

In recent years, there has been much progress in the understanding of what makes a good jockey. There has been a move away from the view that it's purely about strength, and a more realistic view that multiple skills of balance, agility and the ability to read a race – otherwise known as good horsemanship or horsewomanship. We believe men and women have these skills in equal measure.

Giving women jockeys a 1.5Kg allowance could prove to be a great opportunity if it means owners and trainers put more females on their horses in races. This is because they will gain important 'match practice,' which every jockey needs to develop their race riding skills. However, this could equally be a regressive step if it entrenches the view that women are not as good as male jockeys.

In France, taken at face value, the headline figures suggest that in terms of meeting the objective of providing more opportunities for female riders, the allowance has been a resounding success. A year after the allowance was introduced, the number of rides offered to female jockeys in France increased from about 6 percent to 16 percent and the winning strike rate from under 5 percent to just over 9 percent. This compares to an overall winning strike rate for male jockeys of 9.78 percent. In light of these statistics, there would appear to be little doubt that France Galop has been proved right in introducing the allowance.

Whilst acknowledging that the overall numbers of female rides has increased, there is still a discrepancy in the quality of rides being offered. It is pointed out that opportunities still remain limited for female riders in the better-quality races in France and the weight allowance has not had the same impact on providing equal opportunity as it has at the lower levels of racing.

Looking at the South African context and the transformation in terms of female riders, the picture is extremely bleak.  Much of this issue is being laid squarely at the doors of the South African Jockey Academy.

When one considers the topic of transformation in the South African context, we just need to look at the jockey log and see the number of jockeys from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who rank it the top numbers of achieving jockeys.

If one looks at the number of female jockeys that the Academy has attempted to train, we do not believe that the statement above is altogether correct and perhaps there are other questions that need to be discussed as to why the same success in transformation, that has been achieved at previously disadvantaged groups, the same transformation success has not been achieved within the female jockeys. Opportunities?!

Since 1988 there have been 41 female apprentices who have been accepted into the Academy, of which 12 have qualified.  The average working lifespan of female jockeys is 8 years with a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 14 years.  The average lifespan of male jockeys is in excess of 30 years.

Based on the above, and in order to ensure transformation of the jockeys ranks, the 1.5Kg will hopefully have the desired effect of growing the female participation in our jockeys ranks in South Africa and thereby creating sustainability of their participation.

This amendment has followed due process, which includes ample consultation, and it must be reiterated that in terms of the Constitution and the Rules of the NHA the National Board has the ultimate authority to sign, approve and promulgate any rules amendments.

This is part of a five-year plan of a whole range of transformational initiatives to attract, promote and retain female jockeys, amongst other strategies.

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