GIVEN all the hustle and bustle, the tri-state reviews of live baiting will no doubt turn up some important results. However, despite some half promises, that’s probably all they will address.
What is equally important is what happens after that. Two subjects must be looked at so the industry can better ensure its future. One is technical, the other organisational. In neither case are the review members the right people to handle the ongoing task.
All the reviews are dominated by lawyers (mostly barristers) and policemen. They may be very good at their day jobs, and well able to identify and follow up on breaches of racing rules or the law, or suggest how those problems emerged. That’s fine. However, they are not particularly qualified to evaluate how the industry is operated or managed. Nor does their brief really extend that far.
There is one exception but it is accidental. In NSW there is an overlapping statutory review of the state Greyhound Act going on. Submissions are due by the end of the month. They will be reviewed by the government and the racing department, neither of which has a great track record of introducing reforms of any kind.
The first and most obvious task is to extend the live baiting subject to training methods in general. For example, why did several trainers resort without thinking to the use of live baiting – or even dead bait which has now been made illegal as well? It’s a longstanding custom but is it really effective? And what are the alternatives?
In contrast, you might also ask why dogs happily chase a dead piece of coloured fluff around the racetrack, and will even enthusiastically nudge it if you have a follow-on-lure. That emphasises it is the motion that counts, surely, just as much as the prospect of a meal.
Let me offer some parallels. A Retriever, with a bit of training, automatically brings back the downed bird, unharmed. A Bloodhound, having sniffed a piece of clothing, takes its master to the lost child. Various breeds track down drugs for the Customs people. A Labrador waits for the lights to change before leading a blind man across the street. A Kelpie rounds up sheep when the boss whistles. An Alsatian corners the crook when asked to do so. All these dogs are keen to do what they are good at. The well trained dog and the human are a natural team. Always have been.
It may be argued that using a prey caters to the natural inclinations of the greyhound. Maybe so, but the use of live bait is not only contrary to racing rules but it also breaches the law of the land as well as everyday community standards. The use of live hares for coursing events is ancient history, which all concerned would know well. With that in mind, the illegal practices could never last. So why did they continue?
That leaves us with some key questions. Given the absence of live (or dead) baiting, what other means might be used to train and enthuse the racing greyhound? The industry must now engage in a full and expert investigation into actual or potential training methods with two aims: first to ensure right is clearly separated from wrong, or better from worse – a necessary step in view of the obvious ignorance of some trainers – and second to provide better direction and education to trainers new and old. There has to be some reference point which improves on “the trainer knows best” theme. The very long term existence of the industry is at stake.
Incoming trainers now learn from their own experience, from old hands, or from the mate down the road, each to varying degrees. Nobody has to pass an exam (although recommended practices do exist they are largely to do with keeping house) and success is measured mostly by the size of the bank balance.
Some do not learn very well, as illustrated also by the recent examples of over-racing. Elsewhere, you might note dogs with 100 runs under their belt, 98 of which have been at the same track over the same distance. That makes little sense either, even to a non-expert like this writer. How boring can it get?
How many trainers are aware of the medical and psychological status of their charges? Do they pay sufficient attention to sociability factors, something which was highlighted at the recent NSW Inquiry? These things impact directly on their health but also on their ability to compete. No doubt many trainers are highly skilled in these arts but, equally, many are not. We don’t know – we just assume – but current events show that to be a risky process.
Of course, it is no bed of roses. Underlining all these elements is the fact that some dogs are faster or keener than others. Just like humans, where some are good at football and others are not. Some are prepared to learn, others are not.
The second and even more vital area to examine is the very structure of racing today – from the amateur, not-for-profit raceclub to the highest levels of state and national authorities.
Arguably, the current mess partly reflects a failure of the supervisory, or stewardship, function to perform satisfactorily. Some answers there will emerge from the existing reviews but how far will the conclusions extend into the management of that same stewardship function, where equal fault must lie (hence all the resignations etc)?
All the evidence suggests that industry management has fallen short on many counts. Probably the most obvious is that the racing industry in its entirety has been losing market share for over two decades, primarily because it has not kept pace with customer needs or community standards. Indeed, it has often deliberately rejected them. Greyhound racing is especially under the pump because, unlike the other two racing codes, it and the greyhound breed are not well regarded by the general public. Mug gamblers don’t mind but the average man or woman in the street does. Industry management has failed miserably to address this shortcoming.
Also consider this perspective. The management-by-committee system, created and enforced by state governments, has been in place since WW2, unchanged except for the occasional musical chairs exercise – which is all that has happened in the current saga. That’s 70 years under a second-rate system which is no longer used by commercially-oriented organisations anywhere in the world. It’s suited only to the local tennis club.
In other words, the world has passed us by and we have not noticed. It’s time we did.
1. Sort out the immediate live baiting crisis.
2. Set up expert studies into training techniques and practices.
3. Evaluate needed reforms to governance and management structures.