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THE SUNSHINE COAST NEWSPAPER COLUMN: WHEN FREEDOM OF SPEECH CROSSES THE LINE

By Graham Potter | Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Graham Potter writes a weekly column for the Sunshine Coast daily. Due to demand from those having trouble accessing the paper these columns are now also published on HRO courtesy of the Sunshine Coast daily.

“I think this would have to be the worst part about my job. Punters talking from their pockets.”

These were the words of young jockey Mikalya Weir shortly after she had received an absolute belting in a message sent to her on social media concerning a particular ride. The message spewed venom in a vulgar outburst that, for reasons of decency, cannot be repeated here ... suffice to say that it arguably constituted a form of cyber bullying that needs to be recognised as a crime and severely dealt with by law makers.

Remember jockeys put themselves through a lot. Sure, they do so voluntarily but the fact remains that the hours they work, the constant travelling they undertake and their unnatural dietary discipline are all hard to sustain and it is only their commitment that ensures the industry can move forward every day in the knowledge that there are enough riders to provide that essential service that racing needs.

Also consider how hard the actual race riding can be. Apart from the physical wear and tear there is the mental pressure of having to make split second decisions at full speed on top of a 500kg thoroughbred while racing tight amidst a bunch of rivals none of whom are prepared to give an inch. Not every decision made in the heat of action, even by the most experienced and very best, will be the right one.

And let’s not make light of the danger ... an unwelcome random force ... involved in that scenario. People have died out there. The terrible, absolute extreme outcome is an ever present possibility. On a less intense note, every jockey who has ridden for a fair period of time has had to deal with their share of injuries ... from the serious, which puts them out of commission for a long period of time, to the lesser niggling injuries which can be just as frustrating,

Any jockey could consider any one of the above as ‘the worst part of my job’ so when a young rider says that the worst part of her job is the attack she receives from punters talking from their pockets you can get a feel of just how demeaning and inappropriate some of those comments are.

Weir is not the first and certainly won't be the last to face such abuse. She will toughen up and get on with it as many before her have done ... but there is always a chance that someone might fall through the cracks.

It certainly would be sad if any dedicated rider became disillusioned and was chased out of the game by insensitive keyboard warriors sniping in the dark from the the comfort of their own secure surrounds.

Of course every jockey has ridden a bad race on occasions and every punter has been subject to an outcome he or she thinks they didn't deserve.

Jockeys have to know, understand and accept that criticism comes with their chosen territory and punters, for sure, have the right to have their say.

The question is when does freedom of speech cross the line and, when it does, what appropriate measures should be taken to contain it and enforce acceptable standards?

That is what needs to be worked on.

For now though, perhaps somebody could arrange a charity race in which the riders could be drawn from all of those who have handed jockeys a tongue lashing ... although then again, maybe not, because the only bet you would probably get on the race is who would falls off their high horse first!

*HRO understands that in the Mikayla Weir case racing industry participants did fight back in an overwhelming show of support for the young jockey which ultimately led to an apology being offered by the party concerned. Call that a small victory if you like ... but the fact remains the whole episode really shouldn't have happened in the first place.

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