AS the year draws to a close and we farewell crowd pleasers like Fernando Bale and Sweet It Is, the nation is left to ponder where the industry will go now. The status quo and forward are the only available options following the tri-state upheavals of February’s live baiting saga.
Certainly, there has been a massive clean out of cheats and wrongdoers – “massive” mainly because so many prominent trainers were involved, together with large kennels and many good dogs in the three biggest states.
Yet has the industry really learnt much from all that?
Some updated rules are in place, together with lots of media releases. But has the mind-set changed? The Working Dog Alliance report on NSW activity pinned down the culture problem endemic in the trainer group – “my dad did it and his father did it, so I did it too” – but did it go far enough? What of the culture in the middle and at the top of the industry? These things did not happen in a vacuum but in a highly regulated and (allegedly) closely supervised industry.
So far, Queensland and Victorian inquiries have led to lots of words and games of musical chairs amongst CEOs and boards. Nowhere has there been any indication that some sort of major reform is critical for the industry’s future. All Queensland’s codes are in strife, mainly financial, which makes a mockery of the supposedly great 30-year deal just cut with Ubet (its turnover is still in steady decline). The smaller three states have gone down much the same road, although their welfare abuses have been minimal or absent.
Overall, “she’ll be right now, we have changed the tyres” is how it goes, unfortunately omitting to look at how the industry’s engine is run, or whether it is capable of picking up speed to regain ground long since lost to competing gambling options.
For example, our tracks are technically poor, our customers are reduced to mad gamblers passing in the night, advertising and public relations are minimal or absent, public attitudes are dubious at best, growth is obtained only by adding another race despite a shortage of dogs to fill them, TABs and corporate bookies make the rules while governments mostly sit by and hope it will all go away.
This is the sort of situation where forceful and knowledgeable leadership is required at national level. Yet, given the state-centric nature of Greyhounds Australasia, that is unlikely to happen, or even be considered.
But there is a saver, hopefully not a short-lived one.
GRNSW, now being run by a career public servant after the CEO and board were sacked, is showing terrific initiative by querying the status quo on several counts; the WDA review of welfare and training techniques proved extremely valuable; a Joint Working Group from GRNSW is investigating all aspects of racing as we know it and wants input from anyone who cares enough; and an independent consultant is being sought to examine the problems and make recommendations on racetrack design, a shockingly ignored facet of the industry.
Sadly, it is indicative of national attitudes that, so far, all other states have declined to join the NSW investigation into track integrity. NSW is being left as the lone ranger. Attitudes like that suggest that few if any of those independent studies would have got under way if an old-time board structure had still existed.
The temporary NSW structure also illustrates the worth of an organisation which is capable of making searching, prompt and even controversial decisions in its own right. Other states should watch carefully and have a very big think.
Over-shadowing these processes is the partially finished work of the Special Commission into NSW greyhound racing – due to report next March. However, with no greyhound racing expertise and a team of high-priced specialist lawyers running things, there must be considerable doubt about the worth of their eventual output.
Essentially, the Commission is chasing down what amounts to stale news – the breaches of racing rules and state laws by some trainers. Separately, many cases have been heard already, suspensions handed out and jail sentences applied. What is left to do, other than assigning the reasons for the code allowing the illegal practices to continue in the first place?
Still, we live in hope.
Bear in mind that any radical changes emerging from the Commission, and eventually the Minister, could have far-reaching impacts on all states and on all codes. It has the opportunity to push for a modernisation of the entire industry, not just greyhounds.
Yet it still goes on
The country’s resistance to change is well illustrated by the latest drama at Sandown last Sunday. Weather Whatever came to grief at the usual spot. It suffered a bump going around the first turn then, when putting on the pressure again as they entered the back straight, it faltered with a broken hock and was later euthanased. The dog was designated “P” in the detailed results but its permanent GRV record now classes it as “Retired”.
Many such casualties are now sitting in the record books, all wrongly described. But it begs the issue as to why the GRV IT program immediately dumps these dogs into the local retirement home. Someone must have written the program to do that and someone else must have told them to do it. This is unacceptable. But why would they do it? A culture problem, perhaps?