The answer to a reader’s question about what to do with greyhound racing – given a “carte blanche” – is as easy as ABC to say but achieving the targets will be hard due to the artificial barriers standing in the way.
Specifically, state governments, rather than creating a productive environment, as is their duty, are instead cramping progress with excessive rule-making, political interference and the pointless task of trying to pick winners. Together with the entrenched establishments running the show they comprise massive blockages to modernisation and progress. When I say entrenched, I mean the bureaucratic systems those governments created, not so much the personnel who have been changing quite rapidly in recent times.
Nowhere has this been better illustrated than in the streams of legalistic reviews and inquiries launched by several governments to investigate not just breaches but the very structure of racing bodies. Unsurprisingly, they unearthed little that was new and recommended more of the same on the board. A lawyer’s job, no matter how skilled and how high ranking, is to pin-prick about words and phrases, generally finishing off with a call for more rules and regulations and more staff to implement them. Process becomes more important than outcome. A businessman would reverse those priorities.
Both groups are living in a time warp trying to drive a T-model Ford while everyone else is speeding off in a Ferrari. At the core, little except drug detection has changed in over 50 years in any code of racing. Any progress is on the periphery and can be put down to outside people and firms providing technical and professional services to the industry.
So, to re-launch racing, here are some simple objectives.
A. Find out what present and future customers want.
The current system runs under the assumption that people will buy whatever you put out there – this is the 50 year syndrome when thousands flocked to the track and learnt about racing on the job. But that’s ancient history – dead and buried. Research and refresh! Who is really buying or not buying what we offer, and why? Does anybody know?
B. Shape the product to suit.
Clean and competitive racing on upgraded tracks. And be innovative wherever possible. Offer the product at a time and place and in a manner that satisfies the customers. Ignore what trainers want – they don’t buy the product, they just help supply it to the customers who pay their wages. Trainers are important people but they are always biased – naturally enough. (This is why trainers should never be appointed to controlling boards, as some frequently propose).
C. Market the breed and the racing nationally.
For heaven’s sake, don’t forget the first bit. The greyhound is both a wonderful athlete and a friendly family pet. Some people know that, most don’t. We need a concerted campaign to explain it all. Having done that, we must then publicise the product as widely as possible and educate the public about how they can participate. Give them a reason to join in – and stay in.
Start with reform
To achieve those three objectives a great deal of reform is essential. It should come from the governments which control most things, but it probably won’t. Governments rarely like change of any sort – it puts some voters off. So it has to come from the industry itself, whether from administrators, owners, trainers, customers or some combination of all of them.
The obvious starting point is to create a powerful, business-oriented, national “commission” to operate the code, leaving local bodies to implement their share of national plans and keep in touch with their communities. There will be protests about legalities but dismiss them – they can be overcome. (None of the state bodies will like this as it disturbs their empires but harmonisation, consistency and efficiency are essential elements of future growth and demand a statesmanlike approach).
Having done that, the commission must hammer all the state governments to upgrade and update their performances, primarily by demonstrating that they stand to benefit from major reform – for example, by increased tax income from a more efficient and effective industry.
The greyhound code, which easily outnumbers the other two codes in terms of races, must also demand better treatment from Tabcorp (the dominant racing influence today), citing its continuing growth in spite of its constant relegation to the rear in programming choices. And a national betting market is a no-brainer. Everyone knows that but no-one will grasp the nettle and make it happen.
A conventional business maxim is that if you are doing what you did five years ago then it is time you changed it. The world moves ahead so you must keep pace.
Consider what has been happening around us.
- 50 years ago the racetrack was everything. Nothing else existed.
- Formguides, if any, were roneo-ed sheets stapled in the top left hand corner.
- TABs arrived but winners got paid only on the day following the race.
- TAB product then grew exponentially.
- SKY arrived so punters left the track, taking most bookmakers with them.
- Clubs and pubs progressively replaced TAB branches.
- Morning newspapers no longer carried the previous night’s results.
- Rapid expansion of the internet through the 1990s revolutionised communications.
- Commercial formguides started fading, but “official” versions appeared on the internet.
- Corporate bookmakers from the NT filled holes in the traditional betting package.
- Racing authorities everywhere tried without success to ban those bookies as well as Betfair.
- TABs and corporates sought out mug gamblers.
- Extra racing meant a greater proportion of low quality dogs (and low quality gamblers) in the mix.
- TABs got sick of chasing local dollars and started to look to casinos and overseas opportunities.
- Racing’s share of the gambling market halved over 25 years.
- Greyhound racing maintained a reasonable share of turnover only by adding more races.
- Without major change, growth prospects are poor.
- Sports betting is a major threat to racing. Punters have been diverted.
- Nanoscience and quantum physics will generate huge future changes in the way society operates.
Most of these items had nothing to do with racing or its administration. Racing either went into denial or just followed as quickly as it could. Racing is never pro-active – only reactive. That’s what has to change. Strong leadership is vital.
Thoroughbred and harness racing are in decline, leaving the way open for greyhounds to build a new and more attractive option for a multi-faceted client base – casual and recreational gamblers, serious punters and professional punters. That will not happen on its own. Good planning and hard work can do the trick, though.
Still looking for a solution
Race 9, Sandown, 27 March
“Gamilla Go Girl faltered on the second turn and pulled up. Gamilla Go Girl was vetted following the event. It was reported that the greyhound sustained a dislocated right hock, a 28 day stand down period was imposed”.
Same place, same track, same sort of injury. It never ends!