THEY don’t get it. They just don’t get it. With an exception only in Victoria (where proprietary racing continued until the 1950s) all states have persevered with multi-member, government-appointed boards of management for what is emphatically a commercial operation – horse and dog racing. They have never worked, as shown by the continuing decline in racing’s market share over almost three decades, to say nothing of the lack of appreciation of market and community needs as well as various errors and omissions and continuing squabbles.
Now Queensland Racing Minister, Bill Byrne, a former army colonel, has been sucked in to the recommendation of the McSporran Inquiry that not only should the board of management concept continue, but that it should be expanded – to seven members.
Two points should be made about that McSporran report.
First, it was set up to review the live baiting issue and any associated matters. It was not an overall study of the nature of greyhound racing or its management yet it ended up recommending far reaching changes to the structure of the industry.
Second, McSporran is no doubt a fine lawyer but we were never told he had any particular expertise in racing, in business management or even in governance in the commercial field. Yes, he certainly confirmed our worst suspicions about live baiting and identified shortcomings in industry supervision. Even so, he did not dig further and find out why that happened.
In short, for Minister Byrne to take his recommendations verbatim (virtually) is sloppy at best.
In effect, Byrne’s plan to move from what were once the original separate boards, then to a four-board combo, then to the upcoming all-purpose single board again shows no promise of being able to advance the industry or any part of it. None of those boards worked well before so how could they work well this time?
Arguably, greyhound racing will be affected by the financial domination of the gallops code, despite the presence of four independent board members. It would be naïve to think otherwise.
But more important is how progress and innovation will appear in the greyhound area, given that only one of the seven board members directly represents that code – and we have yet to learn who that will be and how good a manager he might be.
Irrespective of all that, can someone explain how any business can be run when it is managed by seven individual people, each with an equal vote? It is nothing more than a guarantee of mediocrity.
Critically, what sort of managers would put their hand up to join such a board? They would be on a hiding to nothing. But that challenge goes further. What decent manager would be prepared to work as a CEO for seven bosses at once – assuming there will be a CEO, of course – when he has no power of his own.
What Byrne and all his predecessors (and McSporran) have ignored is that racing in Queensland has been on the decline for well over a decade now. Every number in greyhound racing is worse than it was, and shows no sign of improving. (Reports suggest the other two codes are no better off). No-one has checked out why this has happened, and obviously no remedial measures have been taken. So, whether you have three, five, seven or fifteen people on the board that trend will inevitably continue.
What the Minister is now asking the four independent board members and three code members to do is to make decisions based on the needs of three different types of racing, each significantly different from the others. The knowledge and skills needed for each are increasingly complex and often specific to the code – as illustrated in part by the recent Working Dog Alliance report to GRNSW. How can we expect a newcomer to sort out the wheat from the chaff?
To cap it off, the much trumpeted 30-year agreement with Ubet may be a false dawn. The immediate increases in prize money are all very well but they will be watered down by two factors.
First, cash will have to be found somewhere to fund all the extra welfare efforts as well as the huge losses uncovered in Racing Queensland books.
Second, Ubet itself is looking at substantial corporate risks as its turnover drops in the face of better options being offered elsewhere, either via phone and internet or by the much larger Tabcorp pools. The good old days of state boundaries now completely irrelevant. The state government might control board membership but it has no way of telling customers what they should do. In short, there is no certainty that Ubet will be able to deliver its part of the bargain in the long term.
The Minister has ignored the obvious need for modernisation and major reform and instead proposes to paper over the cracks. Sadly, he risks having the house fall down.
Ups and downs
We need to update last week’s comment about Wahlberg, which attracted steward’s attention after a poor performance at Geelong over 460m when favourite, which followed an equally poor run over 525m at The Meadows. It faded both times.
Last week it scooted out at The Meadows and won easily in a lively 30.26. Perhaps it was more comfortable being out in front and leading all the way? But this time stewards failed to query the form reversal. Maybe they were too busy asking some poor bloke why his dog had not raced for a few months, as is their habit now. Very boring.
The scientific approach
Since it is now Science Week this is a good time for greyhound racing to update its knowledge. The Working Dog Alliance people suggested some work needed to be done on lure types. Equally vital are studies into the science of track design and an independent review of the state of the greyhound breed. All these subjects are now ruled by guesswork and opinion, which is pretty much what WDA found when talking to trainers about both welfare and training methods.