Is the RCI’s new integrity compliance panel just another gimmick?

Racing has a fan base that is distrustful of the sport, and horsemen who think over half of their colleagues are cheating in a sport rampant with designer drugs. Photo: NYRA.com

Last month the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI), the trade association for racing regulators in North America and the Caribbean, announced the formation of an Integrity Compliance Committee.

The announcement came amid survey results of patrons and industry participants that indicate an extremely negative perception of the integrity of horse racing in the United States.

The results from a Daily Racing Form survey published in October 2015 should be an industry-wide call to action. When asked, “Do you believe states are currently effectively catching trainers or veterinarians who are using illicit drugs,” 78 percent said No.

RCI’s own survey, issued in a recent report titled 2016 Stakeholder Input, includes the following results. In response to the statement  Doping with designer drugs is rampant- 58.1 percent either totally agreed or somewhat agreed. Even more disturbing, 57.2 percent of the respondents either totally or somewhat agreed with the statement Most people I know cheat.

Never-ending effort

Unlike virtually all countries across the globe, there is no central authority for racing regulation in the U.S. Each of the 30 plus states conducting horse racing make their own rules, leading to a lack of uniformity.

For this reason, there has been a never-ending effort to promote uniformity. I have been participating in this effort for decades. I began working with my fellow regulators in the early 1990s to draft the first national model rule book.

The new RCI Integrity Compliance Committee is another such effort.

In addition to choosing the panel, RCI has also chosen the four topics on which each commission will be graded. The topics are:

  • The controlled therapeutic substance list

  • Third party administration of furosemide

  • RMTC laboratory accreditation

  • The multiple medication violation rule.

Those topics are initiatives or model rules that have been in circulation for years and form the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP).

Grades of ‘compliant’, ‘substantially compliant’ or ‘non-compliant’ will be given by the panel to member racing commissions.

The state-by-state status on each of these four issues is provided, and has been available for years, on the website of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). Each state’s status is indicated by a color dot on a map of the U.S. on that site (below is a screengrab of that map).

So, the RCI has just appointed a panel of three experts to issue a report on information that any of us can access on our iPhones in three minutes.

To be blunt, this additional committee simply drops more alphabets in a soup of industry entities that our fans and horsemen already find unpalatable.

I believe our fans and horsemen desire real reform. They want vigorous out-of-competition testing for blood doping agents, anabolic steroids, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and other designer drugs. They also want their regulators to be independent and have the will and desire to deter cheating, and if cheating is detected, to pursue prosecution with vigor.

In short, they want what is lacking in the current regulatory structure and absent from the new compliance committee’s review: uniformity, integrity, independence and excellence. These are the principles that are embodied and mandated in federal legislation named the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act (sometimes referred to as the Barr-Tonko Bill).

Maybe there is another reason RCI formed its Integrity Compliance committee now. A skeptic might believe that this is simply an attempt for RCI to position themselves against federal legislative efforts.

Changing nothing

The federal legislation is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congress any time now. The Act gained considerable bipartisan support in the last Congress. Over 75 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives have joined on in support. Early signs from legislative leaders in the new Congress beginning January 2017 are encouraging.

So, we have a fan base that is distrustful of our sport and horsemen who think over half of their colleagues are cheating in a sport rampant with designer drugs. Many industry leaders are supportive of federal legislative efforts to address these issues.

RCI’s response: appoint another committee.

The new committee changes nothing. It does, however, reinforce the notion that regulators are unwilling to address the problems of integrity in a meaningful way.

Just imagine, soon some tracks will be racing under the banner of ‘Integrity Certification Compliance’ without having any out-of-competition testing. Horses will be prancing to the starting gate blood-doped or on any number of performance enhancing drugs.

Just like they do now.

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