Greyhound racing needs honest players as well as good umpires

THE saga of live baiting is now morphing into the saga of the reports, most of which have been in the hands of legal types of one sort or another. While that is fine as far as it goes, it ignores the probability that the core issue is not just a matter of some twisted minds playing with possums. Equally critical is how well the organisation is structured and therefore how well it operates.

Experts in law and criminality are not normally the people you would expect to excel in creating a thriving and forward looking organisation with a variety of responsibilities from to commerce. We need to go deeper.

In fact, the Queensland Premier has already identified that limit by moving on from her QC’s initial report to asking a fresh (KPMG) to advise on future board structures. And already KPMG has uncovered previously unknown financial problems. Obviously there will be more to come.

Who does what

But let’s go back to the question of who is responsible for what.

There would be little argument with the Victorian Commissioner’s view that, while he found no improper behaviour within the GRV board and staff group, they should have gone further than they did. Accordingly, he recommended applying more resources to the oversight task, something which has started happening already.

Fair enough, but that conclusion in part ignores the realities of everyday life.

In each of the three states, normal supervisory practices did cover the sites and the people involved in live baiting – but unfortunately not at the critical time when abuses were occurring. In some cases, authority staff were constrained by rules and regulations concerning how and when they could do their jobs. The RIC and everyone else are now aware of those problems and are doing something about them.

The case now rests on whether those board members and staff should have known more about live baiting. They are the people who copped the widespread criticism from every outlet in the country, as well as from the politicians who sacked them.

Now, I have no particular brief for any of them and have even been quite critical at times. But I suggest that attention is misplaced to a large extent. There is no evidence that any of them were directly at fault but there is an outstanding question as to why more action was not taken to identify and isolate the abusers.

The first thing is that unless they had just arrived from Mars any insider should have been aware of (a) the common (and then legal) practice of using dead baits to liven up the dogs, and (b) that the extension of that argument into the live bait area was at least possible, and more likely probable. (Note that, if nothing else, option (a) parallels the relatively new practice of having stir-ups prior to the start of a race).

For example, given existing technology, I don’t often go near a track these days but I have been aware of both practices for decades – all hearsay, of course, so I could hardly dob anyone in.

In any event, the difference between dead and live bait is marginal, which justifies the current changes to make them both illegal (unless processed in some fashion).

It is impossible to consider any other option than that authority staff must have been aware of most if not all of the above. The RIC broadly came to the same conclusion. Either way, the discussion was still based on hearsay and hardly promised much in the way of punitive action.

As for the board, we have no knowledge of whether or not members were aware, or made aware, of various live baiting possibilities. In the absence of any other information we must conclude they were not.

Board Responsibilities

However, bear in mind that it is a very long way from approving million dollar expenditures and making major policy decisions to homing on what a given does at 9 o’clock on a weekday morning at a country trial track. That is not, and should not be, part of a board member’s job description. Certainly, they should always be seeking reports and assurances from the CEO and senior management about the level of activity and the successes or otherwise they have had. But there is a practical limit.

Here’s a further perspective. Society is riddled with people who make, buy and sell illegal drugs yet police do not seem to be able to catch all of them. Clearly, the realities of life tell us that wherever there is a dollar to be made, criminals will appear. But to suggest that police should overnight eliminate the lot is fanciful, even though they are well aware of the circumstances and have lots of resources to bring to bear. Why should we expect more from greyhound inspectors? Yet that is what newspaper headlines are demanding.

Consequently, for board members to fall on their swords in the good old Westminster tradition is a bit of a nonsense. It should not have happened, whether the Minister demanded it or not.

But what it has done is to divert attention from GRV staff who do have the direct responsibility for supervising trial track activity. Even then, it is a big ask to claim that they failed, especially given the numerous inspections they did make and the restrictive rules governing those inspections.

Pinning Down the Culprits

It also diverts attention from the real culprit – industry culture. In turn, that responsibility rests largely with the trainer group which has allowed questionable practices to persist.

Indeed, it has effectively encouraged them. They need to get together, stop living in the dark ages and be realistic about the way they work. Concurrently, all the various club committees and association members, most of whom are either trainers or owners, must accept equal responsibility for both failures and the necessary recovery.

None of which should take us away from the need to modernise the way racing is run. Live baiting has shown us that it is possible for too much to slip through the net. But, horrible though the experience has been, it is small beer compared with the code’s and the industry’s failure to keep up with the outside world. That is much more reason for boards to resign in of people and organisational structures that can do a much better job.

That’s yet another reason why I would favour retaining integrity functions within the existing organisation. Fixing the culture will demand a great deal of teamwork and they are part of the team.

Although now stepping down from the GRV chairmanship, director Ray Gunston should be well aware of that challenge, given his son is dependent for a living on his coach and captain, only one of which is doing a great job and he’s injured.

(A Paw Note: both Victorian inquiries, like their Queensland brother, made much of the poor public image created by the live baiting abuses. 99% of us, led by dramatic media headlines, agree they were disgraceful. However, it is instructive to note that they do not appear to have made the slightest difference to patronage of greyhound racing. , for one, is as solid as it ever has been. Perhaps trends will tell a different story, but that’s for the future).

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