Cold Feet and Downton Abbey actor Robert Bathurst says jockeys are the most exposed of all athletes ahead of the premiere of his new film, The Fall, on Thursday.
The short film – to be aired on Sky Sports Racing at 10pm on Thursday – looks to focus on the mental health of jockeys and aims to raise awareness of mental health within the sport of horseracing.
The Fall centres around a jockey having to deal with the aftermath of a high-profile fall at a final fence, following the journey of the jockey through disappointment and tackling the issues of sportspeople suffering in silence from mental health problems.
Bathurst, who co-directs the film, told Sky Sports Racing: “I’m really interested in jockeys actually and I’m interested in how it is that jockeys of all athletes are the most exposed in many ways.
“They don’t have a support team around them like so many other athletes do. They have social media of course which is crashing in on them with accusations of all sorts and vile things said to them.
“They have a vulnerability and they have to cope with that of course – that’s part of the game.
“But there’s a great pressure on them and in the light of various sad things that have gone on in the industry that Nathan [Horrocks, co-director] wanted to highlight, there is the opportunity here for a really interesting story.”
The film also shines a light on the issues surrounding social media abuse that jockeys are subjected to, something Bathurst was keen to point out.
“The forum for criticism is worldwide now,” he added.
“Everyone can cope with the playground because you can see who the opposition are. But it’s when the opposition are coming for you from all angles, you aren’t sure what their motives and they are in danger of destroying your career and your mental wellbeing.
“If you aren’t supported it can throw you down and it’s important to acknowledge the need for that type of bolstering and though no one has the human right to success, nonetheless if you are on the downward slope there’s got to be something to catch you.”
Leading actor Daniel Thrace plays the jockey in question throughout The Fall, and he added speaking to jockeys about the battles they face in everyday life was particularly eye-opening.
“I think one of the best things is that it’s been done alongside people who are involved in horseracing and getting to speak to those people and see just how difficult it is to be a jockey and the things they have to go through was a pleasure to find out and quite eye-opening,” Thrace told Sky Sports Racing.
“We see it every day on social media how much venom there is online and how easy it is for people to say things, in particularly those in the limelight and jockeys are a prime example of it.
“One of the things that makes the film work so well is because it is trying to show that sportspeople and athletes have a life and I think people forget that sometimes.
“They still have to go home and make weight and do all the incredible things they have to do just to stay in the sport and stay competitive.”
The film was co-funded by the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), who provide various support options for jockeys, including a national network of counsellors and sport psychologists.
Paul Struthers, CEO of the PJA, told Sky Sports Racing he hopes the film will help sport and horseracing, in particular, break down the stigma that surrounds mental health and wellbeing.
“It will really drive home the message that people need to be kinder and nicer to each other on social media and raise awareness that both us and the IJF [Injured Jockeys Fund] offer to our members and I just think it will open a lot of people’s eyes.
“When you think how far society has come with mental health issues and sport has really led the way in breaking down the stigma in mental health and wellbeing.
“You look back historically and say ‘well this never used to be an issue’ but it did – it just went unspoken about and people were left on their own to deal with things.
“With the support that is out there for our members and for others in racing through Racing Welfare, it really is driving home the message that you don’t have to suffer alone.
“We know from research in Ireland that 70 per cent of jockeys would pass the criteria of having a mental issue.
“We know that from our figures and the IJF’s that in 2020 over a third of our membership accessed some form of one-to-one mental health support.”
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