Bryony Frost is not a naif from outside of racing who is glad just to be in the weighing-room. She comes from a racing family. Her father Jimmy Frost is a retired National Hunt jockey who won the 1989 Grand National. According to Richard Pitman, who rode against him, Frost was a very good jockey.
Bryony Frost has a media career, due to her personality, which gives her a higher public profile than many jockeys. She has a management and PR company. That was obvious when she issued her public statement after the announcement of the results of the BHA inquiry. The statement thanked the public for their support, drew a line under the incident, and said “I’m moving on”. It was clearly written with help from a PR professional who understands media interaction and how to manage public perception.
The PJA’s reaction was, bluntly, disastrous. Instead of a short statement, where they could have expressed disappointment at the outcome, but reserved their position on appealing Dunne’s inquiry verdict and suspension (which is, in my opinion, excessive), they issued a 2-page rant on headed notepaper, complaining about anything and everything. The statement showed no awareness that a jockey had been found guilty of four (count them, four) different infractions. It read like angry and defensive ranting about perceived injustice, and pretended that the allegations by Bryony Frost had still not been proven.
Then, just to make matters worse, the PJA issued a similar statement purporting to come from female jockeys. It was yet another rant on headed notepaper, written in a similar style to the first press release, but it has one highly damaging credibility defect. There are no names attached to it. We have no way of knowing which female jockeys are supporting the statement, and my cynical side wonders if this statement was created by the PJA without any input from female members. Unless two or more female jockeys are prepared to publicly sign on to this statement, it has no credibility at the present time.
The PJA appears to either have not noticed that they are not dealing with a minor incident involving a run-of-the-mill jobbing jockey, or they decided that they can ignore that fact. They to appear to either have no PR consultants advising them, or they are not listening to any PR input, because if they were, they would never have issued either one of these statements.
Worse still, Jon Holmes, one of the leaders of the PJA, has shown up on television, essentially repeating claims in the statements, which include the horribly damaging characterization that Bryony Frost “felt bullied”. When one of your members has been found guilty of four counts of egregious misbehavior towards a fellow jockey, attempting to re-frame that as “somebody felt bullied” is a PR disaster. It screams “denial”.
Any reputable PR consultant specializing in disaster management would be jumping up and down right now shouting “NO NO NO!” if shown the PJA document trail. This is a case study in how to not respond to a bad PR event. Seriously. It’s terrible.
Pretending that nothing bad really happened and attempting to pivot to Business As Usual is not going to work. The public is aware of this scandal, and is overwhelmingly supportive of Bryony Frost. The National Hunt racing system, and the UK jockey’s trade association, is being made to look misogynistic, tone-deaf and oblivious.
This has impacts, as I wrote yesterday, far beyond the involved jockeys. It impacts the entire public perception of the sport, and potentially reduces commercial opportunities at all levels.
UPDATE – Former jockey Ruby Walsh has commented on the whole affair. Paraphrasing, he believes that the originating incident escalated and spun out of control because the self-regulation process inside the jockey community did not work. Whilst I believe this to be true, it essentially confirms that the jockey working environment, at least inside the weighing rooms, is dysfunctional. The absence of a clear leader who could have told misbehaving individuals to “knock it off” may have led to escalating issues, but the fundamental problem of toxic behavior remains.