“THE space we stood around had been emptied into us to keep”, is how the Irish poet Seamus Heaney described the change that occurred in his family as they experienced their mothers passing. The decisions she had made and the relationships she had created had at her time of death been finalised and left their mark on the children and grandchildren. Her life was set in stone and that stone was always there for the people she interacted with to anchor to or negotiate a path around.
In life we make decisions every day, mostly trivial but occasionally profound; often an accumulation of the trivial will lead to a profound change of direction. Often the decision to do nothing leads to the most undesirable outcome. The repetitive decisions that we make day after day are called habits and they are subjectively called good or bad.
Greyhound racing is 100 years old give or take a decade or two and it is an important stakeholder in the Australian betting industry. Arguably it is the second most popular racing code and hopefully will maintain its position as a popular wagering sport. It’s inherent impartiality and fairness is well recognised by the betting public and one wit once counselled me to never bet on anything with two legs. If we needed any confirmation of that then we need look no further than the evolving scandal in tennis betting.
When I first became involved in the Australian greyhound industry in the late 1980’s there was strong adversarial vibe to the sport, it was a battle between the trainer and the bookmaker. Beating the bookmaker was all important.
Quite quickly that changed as the bookmaker numbers diminished and it became a sport where betting became less important and winning races was the focus of most if not all trainers. One of the greatest safeguards against racing corruption is the incentive of prizemoney that allows trainers with ambition and talent the opportunity to make a good living without resorting to betting to augment their earnings.
The habit of racing to win is firmly entrenched in the sport and most trainers are quite happy to allow their dogs to compete without punting them. The level of manipulation of dogs to reduce their performance would have been very low in recent decades and we could have confidence that the eight competitors were there to compete.
Over the last few years there has been a gradual erosion in prizemoney incentives firstly with the introduction of tier racing and then more recently with the removal of the GOBIS scheme. The massive investment that state racing regulators are now making in compliance with ultimately lead to a further erosion of the profitability of racing and it is reducing the likelihood of a young person choosing a career associated with greyhound racing in the future.
This integrity investment will have to be paid for by also dipping into the betting revenues. The implementation of a stringent code of practice standards and the flagged future welfare requirements requiring exhaustive rehoming efforts for all dogs will largely be the financial responsibility of the trainers and owners. Add to this, escalating property values, rates and other expenses I wonder if the halcyon days of greyhound racing are well and truly behind us.
The industry we look at is the one we have been bequeathed. It is placed on the shelf of history, it’s the place from where we have to move forward. That legacy is tarnished by all the petty decisions that have eroded its foundations, the trainers who cheated, the stud masters who knowingly falsely advertised, veterinarians who aided and abetted dishonest behaviour and the administrators who have repeatedly made reactive decisions often shadowed by poor professional advice.
We stand looking at a sport on the cusp of entering into an environment where history tells us that corruption will increase not decrease. The genuine people who over decades chose to make greyhound racing a career will not tolerate the oppressive oversight of their operations and nor should they. We will be left with the risk takers who return to the adversarial ducking and diving, skiving and conniving, “Arthur Daley School of Training”.
Eventually our administrators will be able to say they were right about us all along!