YOU would think anyone who has penned a series of books on historical events would have a pretty good handle on sifting fact from fiction. You would expect them to at least do a little bit of due diligence and, in particular, adopt the motto of the Royal Society: ‘nullius in verba’ (Latin), which translates into English basically as, ‘take nobody’s word for it.’
If ever there was a document produced by a group of people who are generally regarded to be ‘in authority’ which should be subjected to the rigours of ‘nullius in verba’ it is the McHugh Commission report.
Yet, we in greyhound racing have watched as politicians of the political right, led by the Premier and the National Party leader, as well as some media outlets (notably the ABC) and newspapers have simply adopted the findings of the report and repeated them as incontrovertible fact.
Last weekend the Sydney Morning Herald commentator and writer Peter FitzSimons joined the line of those calling for Mike Baird to remain strong on his plans to ban greyhound racing in 2017 in the face of what many appear to believe is a ‘vocal minority’.
I would have expected a lot more from FitzSimons, but clearly doing a bit of decent homework is beyond him. Maybe his Knox Grammar education wasn’t quite as rigorous as it should have been; or perhaps he has forgotten what he was taught all those years ago. Of course, it may be because his despised rival in the media stakes, Alan Jones, has taken up the cudgels in support of greyhound racing, FitzSimons automatically decides he needs to go down the opposite path.
In his column for the SMH, FitzSimons wrote the following: ‘There are good people, no doubt about it, involved in the greyhound industry and while I feel for them, the compensation packages offered to them are generous. But who can doubt that, as a “sport”, greyhound racing has demonstrably been built on systemic cruelty – both to the thousands of dogs who are annually ruthlessly slaughtered if they prove too slow, and those smaller animals used as the infamous live bait?’.
Look at the intentionally emotive wording: ‘the thousands of dogs who are annually ruthlessly slaughtered if they prove too slow…’ First, while there is no denying that far too many greyhounds over the years have been put down for no good reason, because of the failure of greyhound administrations -accountable to the state government no less – to accurately collate data, no one really knows the precise (or close to precise) figures.
It is claimed many greyhounds which are classified as ‘deceased’ are in fact still well and truly alive.
Every year, as has been pointed out by many others, thousands of healthy dogs and cats are put down by the RSPCA. Their crime? No longer being loveable to their erstwhile pet owners. The animals are put down as humanely as possible, and so it is with the majority of greyhounds who are no longer wanted. I’m not saying this is right, but the vast majority are not ‘ruthlessly slaughtered’.
Second, FitzSimons runs with the party line of greyhounds being put down ‘if they prove too slow…’ In a recent article on this website I gathered together a random list of greyhounds which had raced at a collection of meetings and showed just how many of them were serial non-winners, and yet their owners and trainers kept on going with them.
Anyone can look at any race meeting, any day of the week, anywhere in Australia and you will find a host of starters who are, in the vernacular, ‘legless’. Yet they have not been ‘ruthlessly slaughtered’ because they are ‘too slow’. Why might that be Mr FitzSimons?
And you patronisingly parrot the words of the Premier when you say, ‘There are good people, no doubt about it, involved in the greyhound industry and while I feel for them, the compensation packages offered to them are generous.’ What? So, handing over a fistful of cash will assuage the acute sense of loss of those ‘good people’ will it? People who, when their ‘too slow’ greyhounds have finished their careers, give those dogs a place in the family home, in many cases. Money may well be your god Mr FitzSimons, I can assure you it is not the driving force for so many people involved in this sport.
Let me give you a researched example as proof. Attached to this article is a list of the 87 greyhounds which have raced at least once and were due to compete in the 11 races held at the Bathurst track on Monday September 26. I have not named any of them, all I have done is listed the race, the box number, the age of the greyhound (in months), the prize money each has won to date and then divided that by the age of the starter to get an average of earnings for the greyhound since it was whelped.
Obviously, most greyhounds don’t start racing until they’re about 18 months old, but up until that time they need to be fed every day, be checked by a vet, and broken-in to racing. All of this costs money, from day one.
Breaking down the figures for the Bathurst meeting, the average age of each starter is 32 months (two and a half years) and the average amount of prize money earned is $3,103.40, at an average of $96.98 per month since birth. Hardly a fortune by any measure, and certainly not enough to put a son or daughter through Knox Grammar.
So, yes, the compensation package might well be, in FitzSimons’ view ‘generous’, but I think the figures below show that money is not why people race greyhounds.