AS THE 2015 year nears a close the industry is still smarting from a succession of horrendous events, all of which are self-inflicted in one way or another. They can be put down to some combination of laziness, ignorance, stupidity and incompetence amongst participants and racing authorities. The situation has not been improved by a collection of state government-sponsored inquiries which have failed so far to unearth the real culprit – an outmoded, unresponsive and unaccountable organisational structure.
The root cause is the creation and continuation of those same governments’ policies of meddling with the industry’s operation while masquerading as protectors of the public interest. Looking deeper, the organisational hassles have little to do with greyhound racing but are due to the domination of the wishes of the all-powerful but anti-progress thoroughbred code. Politically, the big end of town runs the show and does not want structural change.
That is not to excuse poor behaviour amongst greyhound people but it does explain why racing is mired in 1950s thinking, maybe even the 1850s. Management by committees and bureaucrats just does not – and cannot – stand up to modern expectations. Consider the major developments.
1. Live baiting was uncovered, not by management, but by probably illegal invasions by anti-racing groups. Most likely, a minority of trainers was involved but all have been tarred by the same brush. Authorities were guilty by their absence and were sacked. The Working Dog Alliance correctly identified shortcomings in industry culture (my dad did it so I did, too) but too many participants still fail to accept their wisdom.
2. Anti-racing groups, themselves a tiny and biased minority, latched on to the live baiting sagas and then expanded their attacks into alleged abuses of any kind, including the “wastage” of unrequired dogs. They disregarded customary practices involving other dog breeds, cats and horses.
3. Media headlines, spurred on by populist politicians, ended up with a motley collection of official inquiries, largely either stating the obvious or manufacturing un-researched claims about overbreeding. No-one has come close to properly defining that problem, if it is indeed one.
4. Greyhounds Australasia produced a grossly inaccurate summary and proposed a solution to supposed overbreeding. Although confidential, intended as a discussion paper, that document has been since quoted ad nauseum in the media, amongst anti-racing groups and by inquiries as though it were gospel. Without proper or any justification, and with no formal endorsement by state authorities, it canvassed cutting back racing by 40%, which would effectively decimate the industry. Nor would it solve the problem as such.
5. The contents of the above confidential document were forwarded on to the Special Commission in NSW by the interim chief of GRNSW, himself a bureaucrat temporarily assigned to the job and with no particular industry, business or racing experience. As an officer of GRNSW he has a fiduciary responsibility to “develop and progress” the code yet chose to offer claims to the contrary – and without checking them.
6. The Special Commission, a team of lawyers with no particular greyhound or business experience or knowledge, has so far chosen to attack the very worth of the industry by accepting erroneous claims, highlighting poor behaviour amongst a handful of participants, asserting untested claims of “community expectations”, and biasing speeches in favour of “shutting down” the industry. It is not so much seeking the truth or calling for reform as it is conducting a campaign.
None of the above is to excuse racing authorities for their errors and omissions. As with all bureaucracies, they are concerned primarily with process and not outcomes. They are invariably reactive rather than proactive, hence their protest that “we did not know about live baiting”.
Yet the dubious conduct of the industry extends far beyond live baiting. Just as one example, consider the case below.
What Happens at the Coal Face
At Sandown last Sunday the stewards reported that:
“Dubsy Russell was vetted following the event (R6). It was reported that the greyhound sustained a fractured right hock and metatarsal injuries and was humanely euthanased.”
However, as we found recently in a similar case (and in several previously), the dog is now officially tagged in GRV records as “Retired” and there is no notation of injured or euthanased. How, then, can authorities keep track of the nature of injuries, or any statistics for that matter?
More importantly, how can they evaluate the integrity of tracks when such events are swept under the carpet? The Sandown first turn is a serial offender in respect to both interference and broken hocks.
This case occurred in a 595m race where the dog met with a slight bump as they entered the straight proper but showed no inconvenience until it was coming out of the main turn and under maximum pressure. That’s where they all happen.
GRV has a file and an ongoing investigation into broken hocks but it has never been publicised. Why not? This is far too serious a problem to be kept under wraps. Even a progress report would be some help. Meantime, two questions are unanswered; is the Sandown turn up to scratch and/or is it a genetic fault which is causing the injuries? Surely, it has to be one or the other – or both.
Coming Out in the Wash
The above case involved one track and one authority yet comparable examples are present in all other locations and jurisdictions. It is an illustration of the unwillingness or incompetence of those controlling the industry to look critically and productively at how racing is run. It illustrates a complete failure to improve or to innovate – a basic responsibility of management.
Even worse is that countless millions of income – ie punters’ funds – have been invested in badly designed tracks or in repeating previous errors. Victoria has done it many times, despite my own complaints and analysis over several years to three successive GRV managements.
Even now, a brand new track at Traralgon has just opened with three bend starts out of five, all guaranteed to increase disruptions, injuries and risk punters’ fortunes. Five Victorian tracks have been completely rebuilt at huge expense only to include a batch of middle distance races (650m-660m) with smash and grab bend starts, two of which replaced more amenable starts over slightly longer distances. WA is doing the same at the new Cannington site. NSW has done the same many times. Queensland just does not know what it is talking about and has failed to make any changes over the last two decades, including to the horrific Ipswich track.
Collectively, what reason is there to trust our leaders to run the show?
Heaven knows the other racing codes have their problems but at least the harness people have made major improvements to their circuits (Menangle, for example) while the gallops are continually trying to create better tracks – admittedly with mixed success. But if you need an example of what greyhound racing needs, just check the design of the 1400m start out of the shute at Flemington.