Week-End managed to get in touch with Ben Gunn, CBE, QPM, CCIM, Sports Integrity Specialist, former British Horseracing Authority Regulatory Director, former Gambling Commission Commissioner, and former Police Chief. The aim was to have his comments on the latest developments regarding the future of horse racing in Mauritius.

The interview style conversation we had from London was aimed at getting an expert perspective on the recent proposed change in regulation and integrity of Horseracing in Mauritius.

Who better than the one appointed commissioner of the commission of inquiry on horse racing in Mauritius in 2014 and invited to help the Mauritian government implement the recommendations of the commission of inquiry in 2015 could enlighten us on the new measures adopted by the Minister of Finance and GRA regarding the Parry and Gunn/Scotney reports?

From the outset, the Briton, in a serious tone and a tied voice, said he was worried about the turn of events in Mauritius and deeply about the future of the local racing industry. He especially emphasised the fact that “the measures announced in the 2021 finance bill do not reflect the letter or the spirit of the Parry report.” For Ben Gunn, what is recommended by the Government of Mauritius, “lacks the essential and fundamental element of independence”. He tells how Paul Scotney and he regret not having hand-deliver their report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Parry report to Sir Anerood Jugnauth, who commissioned the job. When asked what happened to his report, he says, he honestly doesn’t know. « Ask Dev Beekhary! ». Ben Gunn assures, he handed the final report accompanied by a letter to the Prime Minister directly to Beekhary as it was the latter who told him that the Prime minister was too busy to receive them… 

Mr Gunn, can you recall to our readers, how come Paul Scotney and you were hired to make recommendations for the implementation of the Parry Report?

Following the Parry Report, the then Prime Minister’s office invited me and Paul Scotney to help them implement the recommendations of the Parry Report.  We spent nearly 5 months in Mauritius  meeting a wide variety of stakeholders in both  the sport and industry of Horseracing in Mauritius as well as numerous Governmental officials, members of the Betting Industry and the media, including you.

On the 3rd of June 2016 we presented our Report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on horseracing in Mauritius —the Gunn/Scotney Report— containing 13 recommendations on how the 23 recommendations of the Parry Report might be implemented to Mr K BEEKHARRY.

Can you tell us more on what is called the Gunn/Scotney recommendations report and if they have been implemented?

I ‘am bound by a confidentially clause of what the report contains but I can tell what the report does not say… 

What happened with the report? Why has it never been published officially?

I have no idea what happened to that 158 page Report. I have no idea what happened to our 2016 Report – you should ask BEEKHARY but it would be disingenuous at best and wholly misleading at worst to described the  proposals for the new Horseracing Division/Horseracing Committee in the current Finance Bill as implementing the recommendations of the Parry Report.

What do the changes in the racing control structure as described in the 2021 Finance Bill inspire in you?

The proposals for a Mauritius Horseracing  Division and Mauritius Horseracing Committee in the current Finance Bill DO NOT reflect Recommendations 1 and 2 of the 2015 Commission of Inquiry Report  on Horseracing in Mauritius —the Parry Report— in  either the LETTER OR SPIRIT of that Report because they lack the essential and fundamental element of ‘Independence’ necessary for the recommended new sporting regulatory body – in the case of the Parry Report, the Commission  recommended a new  Mauritius Horseracing Authority, later changed to a suggested new  Horseracing Division by the Gunn/Scotney Report and reflected in the current Finance Bill.

Why are you against the current structure of the Horse Racing Division?

As I understand the current  proposal, the Horseracing Division located within the Gambling Regulatory Authority will be answerable to a Horseracing Committee which, in turn, will be accountable to the Board of the GRA which I understand contains representatives of Government Ministers or a least senior Government officials .

That means that the bodies responsible for the regulation and integrity of Horseracing in Mauritius are NOT ‘independent’ from potential Government or political involvement .  That flies in the face of international ‘good practice’ —vide the United Nations Autonomy of Sport Report 2014 and Sports England Governance strategy 2012— which emphasise the importance of sports bodies being ‘independent’ from Government and political involvement.

Mr Gunn, you finally accepted that the Horse Racing Division be created within the GRA, contrarily to the Parry Report? Why?

Importantly , AS A MATTER OF SIGNIFICANT PUBLIC INTEREST IN THE CURRENT DEBATE ON HORSERACING IN MAURITIUS , amongst the principal recommendations of that Report was that the new regulatory body for Horseracing in Mauritius should not be a stand alone body called the MHA —REC 1 and 2 of Parry— but instead PROPOSED  a wholly independent Horseracing Division should be created within the GRA .  That decision was taken because the Parry Report  found the GRA as previously structured and staffed was not fit for purpose and recommended —REC 7—that it required fundamental change.  When we arrived  in Mauritius in January 2016 we found that the change process for the GRA was well under way with a new Chairman , Raouf GULBUL and a new CEO Mrs C RINGADOO . Because of that we believed that a new wholly independent Horseracing Division LOCATED within the GRA would be a more practical and economic solution than the model originally recommended by Parry.

Did you imposed any caveat in that conjuncture?

YES. Crucially, the report emphasised that any such new Division, although located within the GRA MUST be ‘INDEPENDENT’ from any political involvement – AND we specifically described in our Report the difference between Political Control/Political Influence/Persuasion and political interest!

Does the actual Finance Act Correspond to what you suggested in your report?

THE PROPOSAL FOR THE NEW HORSERACING  DIVISION IN THE FINANCE ACT CLEARLY FALLS FAR SHORT OF THE FUNDAMENTALLY INDEPENDENT BODY WE RECOMMENDED  IN 2016  – even though the body bears the same name I see no mention in the Finance Bill of the crucial element of independence from political involvement in either the  proposed Horseracing Division  of the Horseracing Committee which ultimately are accountable to the GRA Board – AND THAT as I understand it includes Government Nominees or senior Government Officials.

What do you think of the proposal to exclude the persons who previously served in a racing position?

Indeed, the current proposal to exclude anyone who previously served in a position connected with the regulation of horseracing from membership of the new Horseracing bodies —eg MTC personnel— flies in the face of Recommendation 4 of the Parry Report which specifically said that the current Chief Stipendiary Steward of the MTC and his stewarding team should be transferred to the new Regulatory Body.

The final word? 

I make these comments because, as a matter of public interest in Mauritius and for clarity and accuracy, the current debate should include the facts about the current proposals reflecting the recommendations in the Parry Report 2015.   Unfortunately, from what I gathered, it appears that the situation in the racing industry has worsen since we were here five years ago and not much has been done on the Parry Report and our recommendations. That’s a real shame and it looks bad for the future of racing in Mauritius…