How typical is the unrest in Queensland? We have now heard, first from an apparently unofficial QGOBTA representative, a plea for a new broom to sweep aside the current regime, followed by a well attended industry protest meeting at Deagon to set aside the Racing Queensland “decision” to build a new racing complex there, and then a meeting to set up a new organisation, the United Qld Greyhound Association, sponsored by some very heavy hitters in the local game. The UQGA wants a “new industry direction”
Plans prepared at some expense for Albion Park and Deagon by Racing Queensland supremo Bob Bentley have been rubbished by the man who has to approve them – Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. Earlier, but equally expensive, plans for a greyhound development at Logan, to the south of Brisbane, have been tossed into the waste bin.
The Liberal National Party, likely to gain power soon, has supported the protests and effectively given Bob Bentley notice. It would also disband the tricode administrative system, returning authority to each of the three codes individually.
The protesters have a point. The quality of SEQ racing has been declining steadily for some years now – note the increasing proportion of maiden and novice races and the introduction of 331m squibs’ races at Albion Park. Several tracks have closed over the last decade for mainly economic reasons while the one-turn Gold Coast track has not been replaced, nor it is clear where the promised $10 million compensation has gone.
Plainly, Albion Park is dying if not dead. It’s grandstand is condemned, it is flood prone and the dual ownership by harness and greyhound codes does not work well. For one thing, re-arranging messy parts of the greyhound circuit is impossible while harness people refuse permission to infringe on training tracks used by pacers.
On the other hand, the planned Logan move looked promising. It had local support and was applauded by most greyhound folk. However, it depended for finance on the sale of greyhound’s half of Albion Park. That was never going to be easy as the trots wanted to stay there and they had no way of generating the necessary buyout funds. Indeed, their own future is clouded by the code’s declining fortunes as well as by uncertainty about zoning. Messy again.
There is a bigger question. Are Queenslanders just unhappy with the personalities involved and their ideas or is it the nature of the system that is at fault?
The concept of management by committee – whose members are generally government-appointed – complicates the operation of every racing entity in the country, whether club or state authority, and no matter what the code. Not only does that structure slow down decision making, it also ensures the lowest common denominator persists. The theme often becomes “I wanted you in the team, mate, but they voted me down”. Indeed, can anyone name a single successful industry that is managed by a committee?
Again in every code, progress is hampered when national bodies, which are also committees, lack the power to act, even if the will is there (which is doubtful).
In some cases – NSW is a prime example but Queensland was never entirely pure – board members are hopelessly conflicted because to their dual affiliations to a club or club group as well as to the state at large. Justice will never be seen to be done.
In others – WA and Tasmania – the state government plays a more direct role. Ironically, those two are doing reasonably well but they are also beneficiaries of government largesse in one way or another. Tasmania gets a heavy input from commissions from the locally headquartered Betfair while WA has a free run (in comparative terms) due to the absence of poker machines in every suburb. Admittedly, it also does a good job of promoting the “evening out” at Cannington, which has the nation’s highest attendances. Back in Victoria, racing’s fortunes have long been boosted by bonus commissions from state poker machine takings.
It is only when nasty things happen that weaknesses come to the fore. In that event, it has become normal for the players – ie owners and trainers – to call for “more dog men on the board”, meaning more direct action.
This is odd, for I have never heard a trainer mention that he has got enough time on his hands to devote to running the industry. After all, they have a 24/7 job already.
In any event, being a brilliant trainer is no indication that you will be a great racing manager. The skills are hardly the same.
The swinger in all this is attitude of the local racing Minister and his Cabinet and, just as important, the Australian Racing Ministers Council (hell, there’s two more committees).
Either way, an inescapable truth is that racing’s organisational structures are over 50 years old. No wonder it can’t cope in the modern world. Just look at the mess it got itself into with Betfair and NT bookmakers. That has constituted a major disservice to the industry’s customers.
It is up to the various Ministers to recognise that fact and to bring about meaningful reform. To gauge what to do they have only to look at a range of other sporting organisations, sort out the wheat from the chaff and charge ahead with the best of them.
Oh, and they should also ignore any advice from their Treasurers. They never get it right as they are so busy bean counting that they lose sight of the future.