The BBC is becoming another arm of our snivelling nanny state

Doha at Royal Ascot
Doha at Royal Ascot

I bet pretty much every day. My morning routine involves reading the papers, scrolling through Twitter, listening to the BBC’s Today programme and then flicking through the Racing Post.

I’ve been betting on horses since I was at school and I’m now 59. That’s a lot of experience, which only goes to prove that experience is no guarantee of wisdom or success. Here I am, still a jobbing hack. And there the bookies are, sunning themselves in Barbados.

The two final parts of my routine come together with Today’s daily racing tips, which it has broadcast for the past 47 years. They are a bit of fun that lighten the otherwise news-heavy agenda of the programme, with most of the fun coming from the fact that the tips are usually useless. Which is, I guess, why they resonate with me.

But no longer. In a typically small-minded, joyless move, BBC bosses have decreed that racing tips are no longer appropriate. One report said that executives regard them as an anachronism, with some feeling that it is irresponsible to be encouraging gambling. So, as presenter Amol Rajan put it artfully on the programme: “We have decided to break the tradition of having racing tips every day of the year”. What a wonderful euphemism. How much more genteel it would have sounded if the BBC had used the same phrasing to report that voters had decided to break the tradition of having a Conservative government.

They’ve not been dropped altogether, we were told.

The programme would “reserve the tips for the biggest days in the racing calendar.” Phew.

In the great scheme of things, does it matter if the BBC has daily racing tips? Of course it doesn’t. But unimportant as they may be in islolation, the way the BBC now treats racing is indicative of a wider problem with the broadcaster, which behaves as if it would rather be known as Nanny than Auntie.

Racing is an industry worth £4.1 billion a year to the UK economy which supports tens of thousands of jobs. It is funded to the tune of £105 million a year by bookmakers. Without that support, racing would be effectively over as a sport – and that is essentially the agenda of anti-gambling campaigners who have been after racing for years, including Public Health England, which wants to an end to all betting but couches its opposition in mealy mouthed proposals for “affordability checks” for anyone who has a bet. In other words, betting is such a terrible and dangerous pursuit that you need to be pre-approved before spending your money.

As is achingly clear from its output, the BBC now thinks of itself as being part of the public health industry, which is why it has bought into the anti-gambling agenda, an ideological campaign by those opposed to gambling in principle who ally with animal rights activists who have long wanted to put an end to horse racing. They have combined to create a moral panic, vastly exaggerating the deleterious impact of gambling – and the wet, liberal BBC nods along keenly.

It still covers racing, in passing, in sports bulletins but it long ago stopped treating it as a major sport – despite racing being the second biggest spectator sport in the country after football. In 2020 the BBC sacked its racing correspondent, the brilliant Cornelius Lysaght, so Britain’s largest broadcaster and sports news organisation no longer has any reporters covering the second largest sport in the country. When it does bother to cover racing now it feels as if it is almost ashamed it is even mentioning it.

The Today programme’s tips may have been a bit of fun. But the agenda behind dropping them is anything but.

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