AT best, it will be more of the same old stuff. More likely, it will sustain the steady decline in the fortunes of Queensland greyhound racing.
The Queensland Parliament has just passed new laws which separate its new integrity unit from the rest of the racing industry, but only by a whisker. They needed the Speaker’s casting vote to get through. The LNP opposition as well as the industry itself were opposed for two main reasons; they objected to the new body covering all three racing codes and also to it being separated from normal code management.
Simultaneously, all three codes will also be under the control of a new and expanded board.
The new Queensland Racing Integrity Commission (QRIC) will be headed by one of the State’s most senior police officers, Ross Barnett.
The newish and inexperienced Racing Minister, Grace Grace, justified the changes on the basis of the 2015 McSporran Inquiry, claiming that it found …
“There were existing tensions between Racing Queensland’s commercial interests and its animal welfare and integrity interests.
“This led to the alarming situation whereby integrity and animal welfare risks were not being adequately assessed or managed.
“The former integrity regime was under-resourced and there was a clear lack of accountability, with some senior positions lacking job descriptions.”
No doubt, but it is also clear that each of these shortcomings represent a failure of management by the former boards and officials, most of whom have been sacked anyway. McSporran, a senior lawyer with no particular experience in racing or management structures, was employed to look into live baiting issues but his involvement there was of no great value as the breaches were all handled adequately under the normal system – leading to many disqualifications and prosecutions.
McSporran’s main, or only, “solution” to the management problem was simply to make the board bigger and to include some outsiders. He failed to consider whether the dubious concept of management by committee, which is standard in the racing industry, was up to the job. Modern organisations, whether sporting or commercial, recognise the inefficiency of those structures and have thrown them out.
Is there really a need to separate commercial and integrity functions?
The separation of commercial and integrity functions into different organisations is contentious. In my view, on balance it is undesirable and reflects a view that the code’s general manager cannot be competent to handle both needs. In contrast, I would argue that it suggests that the wrong person or the wrong structure has been in place yet neither matter was really addressed by McSporran or the Minister. Perhaps they were not qualified to do so.
For comparison, the function of a quality controller in manufacturing and other organisations is one that demands lots of professionalism and independence (without which it will not work) and which also reports directly to top management, not to the people in charge of the process itself.
Similarly, in airline operations, practices and standards applying to pilots and engineers fall under the general jurisdiction of independent government units but the actual duties and responsibilities are assigned to managers within each airline, all of whom have access to the top management of the company.
In either case, the quality controller is by definition a skilled operative himself rather than – as put forward for racing – a former policeman who may or may not know what he is looking at.
Victoria has also gone down the same path as McSporran but at the same time has installed a new but small (three-person) board and a CEO who came from the public service. Neither represents a fresh approach. They might help with administration but not with modern management and marketing techniques which the industry so sorely needs.
The NSW Special Commission addressing the same subjects was due to report by the end of March but nothing has been heard yet. The question of management effectiveness has come up there only indirectly as a function of some specific poor practices – eg not publicising euthanasia incidents, or not being aware of live baiting. No obvious attention has been paid to the nature and structure of the organisation itself. More’s the pity.
A trainer’s view on frequent racing
Victorian-based trainer Anthony Azzopardi threw some light on the distance racing-short backup debate after No Donuts thumped a useful field over 595m at Sandown. GRV News reported it this way.
“I’m not going to push him over the 700 until the time comes. The middle distance is perfect. He’s the type of dog that puts so much into it over the 700 that he doesn’t recover that well, it takes him a few days to get back to being himself. He’s not a stayer that you can keep up week to week, he needs a bit of break and he goes better that way. I’m picking and choosing his runs at the moment but when the time comes I’ll let him go and see what happens.”
This certainly amplifies the “dogs are not robots” theme – more power to the trainer. But how many others – dogs or trainers – take that approach? Judging by observations of runners paddling from the home turn in 700m races every week, not many.
Of course, it also suggests No Donuts will not be taking part in heat and final distance series which are invariably conducted seven days apart. Or will it?
Either way, any state authority which wants to live up to its welfare claims will initiate serious studies of the impacts of high frequency racing. Nominally, that is a task that should be absorbed into the Greyhounds Australasia system (as it did with thumps or drug theory, for example) but that may be as exciting as watching paint dry. We need action, not least because – I would argue – we live in an era when in broad terms greyhounds are less robust and when fewer and fewer are capable of running longer distances.
As an amateur observation, it looks as though there has been a major shift in genetics over the last two decades. Can anyone prove or disprove that, or haven’t we bothered to look?
Here are two clues to aid investigators: first, follow the money and, second, why do a number of semi-official breeding websites include “endurance” amongst the greyhound’s attributes? It’s the last quality I would claim.
The greyhound’s value
A quick comment on a claim by reader “Hugh”, who states “Dogs don’t care about the dog racing industry. Humans care”.
Whether from a biological or commercial angle, and other factors aside, it is generally accepted that an animal species prospers when humans place a significant value on it. Since that is certainly true of the greyhound it then poses a conundrum for the minorities which want greyhound racing stopped. Would the species survive, or survive well, simply as a pet? Or would it end up as a product of the awful genetic mixes which are so prevalent in dog breeds these days?