Our 'tribe' must be preserved too

Sunday News – New Zealand – 15.09.1998

In the midst of damaging political procrastination and industry thinking bedevilled by parochialism, it is nice to discover an anthropologist has cut her way through the crap and rediscovered the soul of racing. In a report publicised by the Social Issues Research Centre, Englishwoman Kate Fox concluded:

"The racing tribe proved to be the kind of friendly, tolerant, obliging natives that most anthropologists only encounter in their dreams."

Fox studied racegoers at 22 British race meetings from the provinces to Royal Ascot, finding that as soon as they pass through the gates, racegoers' behaviour is influenced by an entirely different code, a set of unwritten but tacitly understood laws and customs. Fox said these customs enabled strangers to make eye contact, smile, and offer each other tips, while shy retiring types become the life and soul of their parties and calling "come on my son" from the stands.

Further, Fox found unlike other clique-orientated social or sports events, racing welcomed newcomers.

"Although the world of horse racing is a village-like, tribal society – a distinctive sub-culture with its own rituals, customs, etiquette and dialect – the sociability of the natives makes it easy to become a member."

We have a tribe in New Zealand just like Kate Fox's. It's one well worth preserving, but the responsibility rests with the tribe itself. To co-exist in a smallish and widespread community of only 3.5 million, there has to be rationalisation of venues and resources. There has to be some old-fashioned give and take. Acceptance of the reality there will always be winners and losers in racing – just as in daily life. The need to demonstrate to politicians racing will prosper in a largely, if not totally deregulated, environment. Acceptance, too, that for some it is strictly business, for others it is social entertainment, and for yet others the emphasis is on betting.

Move away from recognising those fundamentals and regrettably Kate's Fox's New Zealand tribe will be on the way to joining the Mohicans.

Copyright Sunday News (New Zealand) © 1998