In recent times this column has noted that decision-making in several areas of the industry is faulty, that vital matters are being ignored, or that important subjects are being approached on a shallow or piecemeal basis, or even not at all.
Once or twice this might be seen as careless, but taken as a whole these shortcomings point to a serious problem in the nationwide management of the sport. The pattern everywhere is that personal opinions and guesswork are preferred to professional analysis. It suggests that nothing less than major reforms are needed.
This list is just the start, but it tells a consistent story.
Lengthy trials in two and a bit states have shown conclusively that use of the FOL reduces injuries and improves failure-to-chase figures. Yet it has now been stopped everywhere except at Gawler in SA, which itself is odd. It is like asking the SA team to play cricket one week and baseball the next. No independent nationwide study has been conducted and only the views of a limited number of local trainers in two states have been sought. Those views were personalised, conflicting and do not answer the question.
The industry is plagued by poorly laid out tracks which contribute to interference, erratic results and race falls yet all design decisions, or lack thereof, are based on the guesswork of the local people. Research and analysis of cause and effect is absent while repeated calls for serious independent studies have been ignored.
A once simple structure has deteriorated into a mish-mash of options in each state, all of which continue to grow by the day for no obvious reason. Moving from the original 6 to 123 grades is too much to bear and far more than necessary. Trainers and punters don’t need costly complexity but more simplicity and consistency. Administrative labour and IT costs would be rising in sympathy with the number of grading options.
Across the whole country breeders are being plied with subsidies whether they need them or not. Studies of the need, the objectives and the results of these programs are nowhere to be seen. Authorities consider only the personal views of the recipients rather than the productivity of the programs or the welfare of the industry as a whole. Breeding numbers have actually fallen over the last decade, reflecting the failure of these programs (ditto for thoroughbreds, for what it is worth).
In recent years there has been clear evidence of long term change in the nature of the Australian greyhound, which is now less robust that it used to be and less capable of running longer distances. Short races (normally less predictable) are proliferating following the acceptance by authorities and clubs of trainer requests, notwithstanding the public’s general preference for longer races. Authorities have ignored suggestions that the trends warrant serious independent investigation and analysis.
In line with the lack of growth in breeding, the actual racing population has barely maintained a level. Slight increases over the last three years in dogs racing have been stimulated only by the increased availability of races, particularly for slow dogs. In sympathy, the average number of starters per race is in decline, encouraging a fall in per-race betting turnover. This fundamental issue appears to have escaped the attention of authorities, despite its vital importance to the industry’s prosperity.
Major negative changes have been taking place to the style and number of betting operators. Initially, the arrival of online bookmakers was welcome as they simulated a renewal of interest in wagering. As this sector matured, it has been significantly affected by the parallel increase in races and the resultant thinning out of pools. Few races are able to sustain decent bets and perhaps a quarter of all activity has been diverted to Fixed Odds betting where all operators have been able to fleece customers by offering books equivalent to 130% or more. Even suggested prices displayed by state authorities have conformed to that level, thereby further misleading customers. At that figure it is impossible for punters to ever make profits. In parallel to these trends, the three main states served by Tattsbet – the smaller tote – are suffering a continuing decline in pool sizes. That trend will continue as punters are now easily able to access a wide range of betting operators.
BUT THERE’S MORE:
To that list we could add the decline in average field quality, a lack of national marketing, the absence of PR programs to improve the public’s perception of the greyhound, the rise in importance of the mug gambler, unproductive subsidies for distance races, and so on.
All the above matters are fundamental to the success of the greyhound racing industry yet they have failed to gain sufficient or any attention from state authorities, let alone from our only national body, Greyhounds Australasia, which itself has no authority whatever.
The lackadaisical approach to the above subjects is in sharp contrast to advances made in other areas of the industry – for example, in drug testing, veterinary services, training techniques, feed and medicines. However, note that those services are mostly outside the reach of state administrators as they are supplied essentially by private enterprise and are stimulated by competition.
In many cases, greyhound practice also compares badly with other codes of racing and with other sports where professionalism, technological advances and innovation are ongoing and consistent. Greyhound racing has not only fallen far behind community standards but it has failed to recognise its shortcomings.
Why is this so?
Well, the buck has to stop at the top. It is inescapable that most obsolete element in greyhound racing is its old-time governance structure. A committee of management coupled with a bureaucracy to serve it is a relic of the dark ages. The inbuilt lowest common denominator effect contributes to mediocrity. It applies in all state authorities and all raceclubs and has done so since the 1950s, or earlier in some states. It contrasts sharply with modern practice in nearly all other sports and certainly with commercial company practice.
In essence, racing has never grown up. Consequently, the world has passed it by and so, amongst other things, it has lost its share of the gambling market steadily over the last three decades.
While that is worry enough, it does not excuse the lack of professional attention to the matters listed above. They are all readily fixable but only when the industry’s leaders pull their fingers out, think nationally and look objectively at where it is headed and why.
Of course, there’s the rub. We do not have any leaders, only people who process paperwork, chase short term cash, administer four-legged poker machines and try to curry favour with state governments. Ironically, it is those governments which are the root cause of the industry’s structural problems – governments set the rules by which racing is governed. As with the national betting pool, state Racing Ministers are the only people who can bring about reform. It’s time for the voters to demand that they do that.