The Hong Kong Jockey Club over the past decade has worked hard to establish the territory as an international racing jurisdiction of some repute and, to a reasonable extent, it has succeeded. But the latest stewards' edict on the licensing of non-local jockeys will cause concern to anyone in racing who feels that certain basic standards of fairness should apply in matters pertaining to any individual's livelihood. People in any trade, profession or job should not be treated as mere pawns or chattels. We are, after all, approaching the millennium, although the draconian decrees issued last week to trainers suggest an approach more in keeping with life a century ago. Cutting through the verbiage, the new rules come down to one simple fact: without giving any reason, holding no inquiry and no appeal, an expatriate jockey can be shown the door. One wonders if those who drew up the new guidelines would feel comfortable working under similar strictures. They would also seem to contravene basic tenets of natural justice, which is slightly surprising considering the legal minds available to the Jockey Club. Were it not quite so serious, one clause might even be laughable. That states that a non-local rider will be required to accept that any rejection of a licence will not be considered by him to reflect on his ability, reputation or character. If his ability is unquestioned, his reputation unsullied and his character without blemish, then why is he not being granted a further licence? Is it because he applies a cheap aftershave? With this particular piece of racing legislation, a central issue is being avoided. If an individual is refused a licence it should surely be for a worthwhile reason - and the Jockey Club in the past has stressed that its actions are to ensure the integrity of local racing. So let the Jockey Club state reasons for refusal. The highest profile refusal of a licence recently was that involving Darryll Holland. The decision was taken, an appeal turned down, and Holland departed Hong Kong. He did not do so in a storm of criticism over the Jockey Club's actions, nor did he vent any particular spleen over the decision himself. In other words, it was an inquiry, an appeal and a decision upheld. The procedures involving Holland, and others, were very proper and conducted in a manner which attested to the Jockey Club's determination to uphold the integrity of the sport here. So why should these new rules be deemed necessary? Particularly so when they will place the Jockey Club completely out of step with every other recognised and respected racing jurisdiction. And that is what will happen. No other major racing country could expect to treat licensed jockeys with what must border on contempt. Ultimately, these rules could be self-defeating. Unless the Jockey Club wishes to dispense with expatriate riders - and given recent ICAC actions, that would seem unwise - these rules could encourage malpractice, reduce riding standards and prevent the forging of strong trainer-owner-jockey links which would normally benefit any stable and, ultimately, racing. Very, very few top-flight jockeys are now going to be prepared to leave their own countries for only a guaranteed nine-month period - and that is all that a Hong Kong trainer can promise. It is little good saying that if the jockey keeps his nose clean, all will be well because, according to the new rules, that may not be the case. So we will have lesser riders prepared to take a chance on coming here short-term and they could be open to the clandestine approaches that lead to the type of activity that interests the ICAC. It does take any jockey time to settle in and get to know his horses, stable and trainer. Nine months is scarcely the ideal period, but a couple of seasons gives a relationship time to mature and produce results. There are no guarantees now that that will happen. Prior to last week's announcement to trainers, licensed personnel generally knew where they stood. Breaching Rule 131 (i) meant the end of the road. Breaching lesser divisions of the same rule put the licence in jeopardy, as did inadequate performances on the track, too many careless riding charges and similar indiscretions. Licensed individuals had also to be decidedly wary of the company kept off the racetrack itself and were advised along these lines by the Security Department. Basically, a structure was in place which served racing well and left those involved knowing almost exactly where they stood. While all the above will still apply, the one word that will now sum up life for most expatriate jockeys in Hong Kong is: uncertainty. And that surely cannot be beneficial to racing. Given the safeguards already in place, last week's rules were unquestionably a regressive step by the Jockey Club. They lay the stewards open to allegations of arrogance, unfairness and having a disregard for certain basic rights of any individual in any job or profession. A sign of the changing times? Or is it 1897 not 1997.