Right people essential for greyhound success

IN my time I have dealt with many experienced public servants, from department heads on down. The great majority of them have been fine people and very good at what they do. But I would never give them a job running a corner store, let alone a big business. Why? There are three reasons.

First, I doubt they would want to do it.

Second, they don’t have the necessary experience.

Third, they are not the right sort of people.

Despite all that, we have three public servants plus an accountant running greyhound racing in four states, admittedly three of them on an interim basis. Another CEO came from inside the industry while the sixth is an outsider. Separately, most people currently charged with investigating the industry have a legal background with limited or no commercial experience. It is hard to find an entrepreneurial type anywhere.

Given history, the likelihood is that there will be pressure to install similar people in the future. By and large, all their predecessors came from similar backgrounds so the formguide is pretty clear. Newcomers will be appointed by Racing Ministers, with much help from their departmental advisors, and a prime aim will be to avoid embarrassments and stuff-ups in the future. The appointees must be “sound”, as Sir Humphrey would have it.

Going down this road will ensure nothing much happens. Never mind all the waffle you have heard over the past few months. Words are a lot different to actions yet the lack of action is what got us into this mess in the first place. Actions did not cause the problems, nor were they responsible for racing steadily losing its way over the past two decades. Inaction caused it all.

Quite simply, bureaucrats process things, managers make things happen. We need managers.

Here is an indirect example, as written by Fairfax Chief Sporting Reporter, Andrew Webster (August 10, SMH), in commenting on the lucrative TV deal done by rugby league boss Dave Smith after just three years on the job (after coming from a banking background).

“The jury has been firmly out about whether the former banker is the right man for the job. He didn’t know Cameron Smith was the Australian captain. He reckoned “Benji” Barba was the best player in the game.

Smith’s legacy was never going to be about how much he knew about footy, or even how much he impressed when the cameras were on, but how much he knew about business.

“Rugby league needs somebody to lead it,” Smith said at Monday’s announcement. “It needs a strong leader and hopefully I’ve demonstrated I can do that.”

Of course, racing does not really have any leaders worthy of the title, and certainly not a national one. Not in any code. Rules and decision-making vary from state to state. Five year plans are pumped out with regularity, not because they govern progress but because it’s a requirement for government-appointed instrumentalities, just like FOI rules or OHS practices. Major investments are never tested for their effectiveness. Track design is guesswork. Customer needs get short thrift. “She’ll be right” is endemic.

And live baiting went on unnoticed – until just recently – notwithstanding greyhound racing’s historical origins in that arena. Everyone was well aware of the subject, if not the practice. (I choose not to believe anyone who claimed the opposite).

So, where are we headed? Well, two things make it hard, if not impossible, for greyhound racing to achieve greatness or even sympathetic recognition in the community.

First, state CEOs are appointed without any power, save as the board might delegate some responsibilities. What livewire, progressive person would take on the task under those conditions? A bureaucrat, perhaps?

Second, giving all the management authority to a group of people – the board – ensures not only a slow and cumbersome process but is conducive to mediocrity. The lowest common denominator effect always applies.

So, even with the best will in the world, success will always be a long way away.

Greyhound racing is by nature a highly commercial operation which demands serious business expertise. The dominating influence of Ministers and state racing departments is an anachronism which occurred only because long ago shifty characters messed things up in the two big states (NSW and Victoria). Rather than sort out the problems, governments effectively took over themselves and so commenced the long drawn out bureaucratic process. The other (newer) racing states just followed suit. Sadly, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Strangely, none of those governments applied the same remedy to any other sport, or to casinos and poker machine palaces. Yes, they had to follow some rules but they were left to find their own way to profitability. Some succeeded, some failed, which is how it always should be.

Rugby League just negotiated a long term $975 million TV contract. Other sports have done likewise to varying degrees. In contrast, greyhound racing has to pay for many of the expenses involved in broadcasting a race, yet it generates over $3 billion a year in wagering turnover for the broadcaster’s owner.. Silly, isn’t it?

Oldies show the way

We have heard of finishes in box order but how about Race 5 at The Meadows on Wednesday? The six-dog field finished in betting order, led by ever-solid performer Cornelius Fudge at $2.70.

The clincher – it was a Veterans race. For years we have been pointing out how reliable that form is. They know their way round the track. Should be more of them.

Sweet by any other name

Articles from the heart of the GRV camp described the win by Sweet It Is in the nationals run-off at The Meadows as “incredible” and “phenomenal”. Really?

This fine stayer – and it is that rare commodity, a genuine stayer – ran 42.74 in that state final, or seven lengths slower than in its heat (which was a PB), or nearly 12 lengths outside the track record. At least four of the other runners had run better than 42.74 during their careers but could not reproduce that form in the final. Of course, backing up within seven days would not have helped.

What adjectives would they have used if it had run really good time?

Sweet It Is will possibly win the big prize at Wentworth Park, not least because it will be up against the weakest field seen in years.

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