The announcement by the Baird government that it will ban greyhound racing in New South Wales starting from the beginning of July 2017 is yet another reminder of how the sport/industry failed over a long period of time both internally and externally to address central issues which have become of concern to society as a whole.
Social media is awash with average people who are happy to see the end of greyhound racing in NSW. A quick look at a poll conducted on the day of the announcement by the news.com.au website showed 70 percent in favour. This is hardly a surprise given the totally negative coverage greyhound racing has received since the live-baiting scandal erupted in February 2015.
That the vast majority of greyhound racing participants were just as abhorred by what they saw on that Four Corners program is not in doubt.
Let’s look at the salient points of the McHugh report; the points upon which the government has decided to end the industry.
First, the information/evidence that between 48,891 and 68,448 greyhounds were killed over the last 12 years for a variety of reasons, all directly associated with their ability to be viable racing propositions. Assuming the higher of the two figures, that translates to an average of around 109 greyhounds per week being put down.
While we can talk about and rail against the cruelty of the live animal export trade, and the actions of the RSPCA which destroys a lot more than 109 healthy dogs of all breeds each week, and the number of standardbreds and thoroughbreds which end up in a knackery week by week, and the average human beings who happily eat chicken, pork and beef with most meals, the reality is that this is just deflection. Two wrongs don’t make a right as the saying goes, and so greyhound racing cannot use other follies to justify its own. No court in the country is going to allow that as some kind of mitigating argument.
What needs to happen is to find a way to verify or confirm the numbers produced by the McHugh report. No matter what the true figure may be, the reality is that society will not accept anything less than almost zero attrition. In other words, if an owner or trainer is in a situation where they can no longer justify keeping the animal, then it should be acceptable to have the greyhound passed on to an agency tasked with keeping the animal.
This may well lead to a reduction in prize money as funds are required to maintain the animals for the term of its natural life. Is anybody seriously not going to contest the Golden Easter Egg because its first prize is now $100,000 instead of $250,000? I don’t think so.
Second, the claim that despite the illegality of live baiting and the heavy penalties involved for those who are caught, a trainer claimed ‘about 10-20% of trainers engaged in live baiting.’
The key question to be asked of the claim by this un-named trainer is ‘How do you know?’ Obviously, no-one knows the real answer. Let’s assume the trainer is right, and the figure is as high as 20%. This means, conversely, that a whopping 80% of trainers are not engaged in live baiting. Which simply proves that greyhounds do not need to be given a live bait in order to be encouraged to chase.
So, trainers engaged in live baiting need to be rooted out and the full force of the law employed against them. This is where the internal greyhound racing administration failed, and failed badly, over the last few decades. Society, rightly, will not stand by and let such cruelty exist.
Yes, I’m well aware of the cruelty of ‘feral pigging’, I’m well aware of the cruelty of farmers allowing amateur shooters to come onto their properties to shoot kangaroos, foxes and rabbits, and almost everyone turns a blind eye to the reality of what happens in abattoirs, but these are issues for others to debate and do not address what has happened in greyhound racing.
Third, ‘the systemic deception of the public concerning the number of deaths and injuries of dogs. It is estimated that 180 greyhounds per year sustain catastrophic injuries during races…’ but the McHugh report found ‘Greyhound Racing NSW had adopted a policy of deliberately misreporting the extent of injuries suffered by greyhounds at racetracks.’
Injuries were yet another damning indictment of the internal industry culture. Injuries, and their systemic cover-up, was a factor Bruce Teague often mentioned in his articles on this website. While it is impossible to stop injuries taking place, the issue should always have been to work out what the causes may be and take steps to rectify them.
Our obsession with speed, trying to produce ever-faster greyhounds in the hope of clipping one-millionth of a second from a track record cannot have helped. As Bruce Teague often stated, how do track administrations continually place boxes on bends and then fail to address the bunching and interference which results and often leads to injuries?
Would greyhound racing be better off with six-dog fields, as in the United Kingdom?
Finally, the report claimed, ‘it appears unlikely that the issue of the large scale killing of healthy greyhounds by the industry can be addressed successfully in the future…such is the culture of the industry and some of its leaders that it is no longer, if it ever was, entitled to the trust of the community.’
Basically, the report suggests the people running greyhound racing in NSW are not capable in either the short or medium term of instituting reform. That is just an unbelievable statement of defeat from the inquiry in my opinion.
Surely the answer is not to completely ban the entire sport/industry, but instead find and appoint the kind of people capable of instituting the kind of reforms that are necessary. Will it take time? Of course, but to this writer to claim the incredibly large number of good people in greyhound racing are not capable of helping to institute the necessary reforms and engage in changing the bad aspects of the culture are totally spurious.
What is it about the ‘culture’ in NSW that is so different to that of Queensland and Victoria and elsewhere?
Greyhound Racing Victoria has an articulate and clearly committed leader in Alan Clayton and administrators south of the Murray appear to be doing their best to weed out the undesirables and improve the industry overall. Yet McHugh is saying this is impossible in NSW, largely because live baiting had allegedly continued. If that is true, then those tasked with implementing reforms failed, badly. It suggests there is no ‘will’ to initiate reforms, yet we must remember this is a sport overseen by the government of NSW.
So, it is the NSW government, led by Premier Mike Baird, which is being obliquely criticised here for a lack of will. In coming days and weeks we may see, hopefully, some people with genuine ability come forward who will be capable of giving the lie to the claim that reform is not possible in the short or medium term.
One interesting comment, posted on the racenet.com.au website noted, ‘What a bunch of hypocrites the NSW government is…they ban greyhound racing and then on the same hand say they will still take the revenue from the NSW TAB from wagering on interstate meetings.’ Well, the moral high ground still needs to be funded someway it seems, and maybe installing poker machines in secondary schools could be a great new source of alternative revenue.
What’s next? Already stakeholders are coming together to discuss their options and are looking at preparing a legal challenge to this decision. It’s happened before, but greyhound racing desperately needs to engage with the wider community so people with little or no knowledge of it can be better informed.