The British Horseracing Association (BHA) has looked outside the sport for its new chair with former Olympian Annamarie Phelps appointed as permanent successor to Steve Harman, it was revealed on Tuesday.
Phelps, 52, comes to the job with a depth of experience in the world of sports regulation, including five years as chair of British Rowing until she stepped down in 2018.
She was also elected as vice-chair of the British Olympic Association in 2017, was vice-chair of the British Paralympic Association, and chaired the report into claims of bullying within the Great Britain cycling team which was published two years ago.
Phelps represented Great Britain at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta in the women’s eight, and as a member of the Great Britain rowing team was world champion and three times silver medal winner in the lightweight women's four.
She was made a CBE in the 2016 new year’s honours for services to rowing and was also the first female board member of The Boat Race Company Ltd.
Phelps, who joins the BHA on June 1 and has not had a role in horseracing previously, said: "I relish the opportunity to work in British racing. Everything I’ve seen and heard tells me that racing people are passionate about their sport, proud of its magnificent heritage and unified by a love of horses.
"I'm looking forward to working with new colleagues at the BHA and across the sport. My priority is to help with the immediate challenges we face, but I'm excited by the opportunities for racing to grow and flourish in the years ahead.
"I believe that collaboration is the key to success and am privileged to be given a chance to play my part."
Phelps was one of seven candidates understood to have been interviewed for the position. They also included current board member Atholl Duncan, who has served as interim chairman since Harman stood down in November.
She was the unanimous choice of the nominations committee, whose chair Andrew Merriam said: "I’m delighted we're able to appoint a candidate of such high calibre.
"Annamarie has demonstrated impressive leadership skills and an astute grasp of the issues facing major sports, including their engagement with government. She will bring a challenging and independent perspective to the BHA’s work and be a powerful advocate for horseracing."
He added: "On behalf of the BHA, I would like to say a big thank you to Atholl Duncan, who has been an excellent chairman since November.
"Atholl has helped the sport grapple with some tricky issues, playing a significant role in bringing people together to resolve the recent dispute over prize-money."
Phelps comes into the job with relations between the BHA and a number of stakeholders – notably trainers – extremely strained following rows over the governing body's handling of the equine flu outbreak and the issue of equine welfare which erupted again during the Cheltenham Festival.
The BHA has a number of other pressing issues, including Brexit and the sport's finances in the face of the potential loss of income caused by betting-shop closures resulting from the government's curbs on FOBTs.
The make-up of the BHA's board is also undergoing change, with the sport's stakeholders set to have increased representation.
Phelps' predecessor Steve Harman revealed she had been a strong candidate to join the BHA board five years ago.
"Given the number of issues now with Westminster she needs to pick these up as soon as possible," he added.
Her recruitment was endorsed by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who described it as an "excellent appointment".
She tweeted Phelps was "extremely sensible, a safe pair of hands and has the advantage of being well liked and respected across sport and government".
First published: www.racingpost.com