“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,” – Mother Theresa.
Those words echoed through my mind as I took my first step into a meeting which had the potential to change the future of the greyhound industry – a sport I have loved since I was a little girl.
Last year, I was selected to be a part of the NSW Joint Working Group (JWG), an advisory panel established to provide recommendations to Paul Newson, the CEO of Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW), as to what changes need to be implemented to ensure the survival of the sport within the state.
Many months, business meetings, phone calls and email conversations later, here we are. The final JWG report has been handed down, just in time to be considered as a part of the Special Commission of Inquiry, and now more than ever is the time for participants to rally together as the industry prepares for colossal change.
While I wont detail every single point of the report, I feel one of the most significant recommendations to come out of the JWG is for participants and GRNSW to take more responsibility of their dogs from birth and throughout their entire lives. This includes registration of greyhounds throughout their whole lifecycle and periodic assessment of each dog by qualified officers.
I know many people have baulked at this idea, but I am all for it. Throughout my experience pre-training greyhounds, I see all too often young greyhounds which have never been handled — arriving on my door step without so much as a nail trim or a brush — and people expect them to be ready to race within a few months.
Time and time again my job is made difficult when dealing with poorly reared pups, most of the time I have to start right back from square one with them, whereas in contrast I have found the dogs which have been well looked after and socialised are generally easier to handle and are much quicker to come to hand when put into work.
I feel this recommendation is a win-win for participants and animals. Rearers, who, along with breakers, pre-trainers, spellers etc, may all soon need to be licensed, will have to demonstrate the greyhounds in their care are handled and socialised. I believe in turn this will make it easier to break-in dogs if they have been taught essential skills such as chasing a squeaker at a young age, and it will in turn seek to prevent owners from disappointment when the dogs are older.
I do not believe this recommendation, if adopted, will negatively affect the majority of participants who do the right thing — it will, however, bring everyone else up to the same minimum standard to ensure every greyhound is given the best chance from the start.
This recommendation will also ensure greyhounds are properly socialised, making them more suitable for re-homing once their careers are over – another key issue the JWG flagged for improvement.
The JWG identified several overseas models for greyhound rehoming, such as the one used in the USA, where our observations were that the adoption system work very well, with many private adoption agencies working hand in hand with the greyhound racing industry.
Ultimately, the JWG would like to ensure that every greyhound in NSW is given the opportunity to live out the remainder of its life as a companion animal once its time on the track has come to an end.
Another point which I was passionate about was the potential development of a new grading system and racing schedule to allow dogs with a lower ability level the chance to race, which I don’t think is an option at the present time.
The JWG discussed various grading policies implemented across the globe to simplify the present system. The end result would be to get more dogs onto the track and seek to ensure older and slower dogs are catered for as well as younger and inexperienced dogs. Possible solutions to improving the current grading system were noted and require further research.
Hand in hand with grading is race programming to ensure clubs are running races to cater for all types of greyhounds.
One of the points to cause much debate amongst participants was the recommendation that GRNSW investigate the ‘Centre of Excellence’ concept. With 34 registered greyhound tracks in the state, 33 of which are funded by GRNSW, the JWG questioned the long term financial sustainability of the sport with this number of tracks in operation.
The JWG therefore suggested GRNSW identify the optimum amount of tracks, race meetings and the type of meetings which should be conducted at each venue. The JWG also discussed specific features which each track should possess such as facilities to support education programs, greyhound education facilities, an onsite veterinary clinic, hospitality and Greyhounds As Pets facility.
It is important to note the specific locations of the Centres of Excellence were not included as a part of the recommendations, however the JWG highlighted the regions within NSW which it identified as requiring TAB racing/ a Centre of Excellence.
Following on from discussions regarding the Centre of Excellence concept, another recommendation put forward by the JWG was to increase the base level prize money to $1,000 for a TAB race, ensuring trainers and owners have an incentive to stay within the industry.
This is double the current winning prize money for TAB C events and I feel that it will make a massive difference to participants who pour their blood, sweat and tears into the sport every day of the year.
Still on the matter of tracks, the JWG also urged GRNSW to complete an analysis of track related interference and ways to reduce it to ensure the optimum level of greyhound welfare and to potentially prolong the racing careers of greyhounds. Some suggestions were to look into the feasibility of six dog races in certain circumstances and straight track racing with up to 10 potential starters in each event.
One of the more controversial recommendations of the JWG is the introduction of a breeding quota which would be in line with a proposed National Breeding Target put in place by Greyhounds Australasia. Many participants have made it clear they do not support this move, however I believe it would seek to ensure the long term sustainability of the sport both from a racing and welfare perspective.
At the present time, there are currently too many dogs which do not make the track and another large amount which are unable to gain a start due to various reasons. The JWG felt this was unacceptable, with a quota aimed at ensuring the pool of greyhounds is at a level which the industry can sustain in terms of racing opportunities and managing each greyhounds full life cycle i.e. rehoming.
An analogy which can be used to explain this model would be cotton farmers who wish to plant more of their crops when the prices are high. However, if everyone tripled their crops the Murray Darling would soon run dry and there would be no future for anyone, so the farmers signed up for licenses that restrict usage to ensure sustainability of the river to ensure the river system can cope.
While it is not exactly the same as the greyhound industry, if the sport’s problems were to be miraculously rectified tomorrow what would stop every participant from breeding? Soon you would have dog numbers getting exponentially out of control and we would be faced with the same problem – too many dogs and not enough races or retired homes.
It is all about sustainability, with welfare being front and centre.
Finally, another recommendation I was all for was a restructure of GRNSW which includes greater separation of the regulatory and commercial aspects of the business.
I feel that the current structure of GRNSW has proven to be ineffective, as evidenced by the last 12 months.
With these new recommendations, GRNSW would require a new board structure, while it was also put forward that a Greyhound Racing Integrity Commissioner be appointed as well as a newly established advisory committee which would potentially replace the current Greyhound Racing Industry Consultation Group (GRICG).
To go with the alterations to the structure of the authority body, the JWG also indicated that more transparency and accountability is needed from GRNSW to ensure it is meeting the requirements of the rapidly changing industry.
Throughout my time on the JWG, it is fair to say I had my share of knockers, however I have emerged from the experience full of gratitude for being given the chance to make a potential difference to the industry.
Not once did I bite my tongue throughout the process, I made my opinions known and I did my utmost to stay true to myself and all the participants which I was there to represent.
After reading the final report, I wholeheartedly believe that the recommendations put forward can only have a positive impact on the future of the sport.
Overall, it is important to note that none of the recommendations are set in stone and, depending on what the CEO decides, they may or may not be implemented.
For as long as I can remember people have complained about how the sport is being run by GRNSW, but now we have some real changes on the way so I believe it is the time for everyone to band together.
If we want the industry to improve and move on from the struggles we are currently faced with, we must embrace the new vision rather than fight it.
While it may take time to get used to the new changes which are put in place, I believe they will ensure the industry is run more professionally, transparently and fairer for all participants, all while ensuring the welfare of our number one priority, greyhounds.