IN CASE you missed it, the NSW government – repeat, the government – is calling for people to nominate themselves as a “member of Racing NSW”, which runs the galloping code. That curious English is intended to mean a member of the board of RNSW.
The job includes “controlling, supervising and regulating the thoroughbred racing industry as well as initiating, developing and implementing policies conducive to the promotion, strategic development and welfare of the industry…”, according to the official release.
Note the “as well as”. Almost a throwaway line. And note the waffly language produced by the bureaucrats at the department. What does “conducive to” actually mean? Is there much difference between the three verbs “controlling”, “supervising” and “regulating’?
Let’s not forget the NSW government is also in near total control over the code’s income – via taxes, the TAB licensing conditions and rules applying to betting commissions generally.
All this is from a government which regularly tells us it wants to keep the racing industry “at arm’s length” from the Minister. “It is not subject to direction by the government”, says the latest announcement. Really?
The brief for Greyhounds NSW is almost identical to the above. It is under interim management at the moment, of course, while the McHugh Commission and KPMG take a look at governance and other matters before reporting to the Minister.
By early next year GRNSW will theoretically be a beneficiary of large amounts of extra cash following the government’s in-principle decision to reduce betting tax rates to better compete with other states. The tax rate will drop from 3.22% to the Victorian rate of 1.28% over four years. However, the Minister alone will decide how the extra money gets spent. Apparently he does not trust the racing authority, which means that departmental bureaucrats will have to work out where the capital funds go. Are they qualified to do that? Arm’s length? Political factors? The mind boggles!
Now, the announcement about the Racing NSW board clearly indicates that government has no intention of changing the longstanding structure of that code’s governance – ie management by committee. Therefore, despite all the expensive inquiries, originally prompted by the live baiting scandal, it is hardly likely to take a more reformist view of the greyhound code’s needs. Expect more of the same.
This means a continuation of the typical five, six or seven members of such boards being responsible for all management decisions. Whatever the CEO does is probably as much a matter of personalities as anything else. Effectively, no one person is in charge.
Yet surely this is what got us into the current predicament. If there is no real boss then they are all equally responsible, which is probably why they all got sacked.
Evidence of the absence of management control is plentiful. Consider one of the last major investments made by GRNSW.
Who was responsible for the multi-million dollar upgrading of the Goulburn facility? It opened with flags flying, trumpets blaring and everyone, including the chairman and the then-Minister, making speeches and congratulating each other. The outcome was a 457m trip where the inside dogs had to run an “S” course before entering the back straight proper. The boxes were located around the corner. Left, right, left was the order of the day on what was supposedly a one-turn track.
Yet just recently, in the dark of the night, the 457m start was magically transformed into a 440m start with a halfway decent look down the back straight. We did not get that memo, did we? Apparently, someone realised the obvious truth that the boxes had been placed in a terrible spot (they may have been prompted by mentions in this column). But that was not all. Since day one, the home turn has been far too flat, throwing off runners towards the 700m boxes. Apparently that does not count because no changes have been seen in that area.
Goulburn continued a long line of expensive bungled jobs – at The Gardens, Gosford, Richmond, Dapto and Bathurst – where huge amounts of public (ie punters’) money have been poorly invested, all without any serious audit as to their effectiveness. Was no-one in charge? Or were they just incompetent? At the very least, technical shortcomings are obvious (at both club and authority level), but that does not excuse the cheque-writers who failed to ensure that the job was well done.
Sadly, the industry has longstanding form. 17 years ago, the NSW greyhound authority got us into financial strife when it played pass the parcel amongst the leading lights and agreed to a fixed TAB commission share for 99 years – ie regardless of how the industry might fare in following decades. It then compounded the problem by progressively adding more races, knowing full well that the lion’s share of the profits would go to the gallops and the trots, both of which have otherwise been in decline.
We can also note that GRNSW is also responsible for “promotion”. But where is that promotion? Commercially, the odd few tie-ins with outside groups are nice but do not count for a lot. In fact, Glenn McGrath’s “Pink” breast cancer people failed to even turn up at the presentation. And advertising is virtually non-existent. Is there another commercial enterprise which exists without advertising?
How about “strategic development”? Notwithstanding the financial constraints, there is no evidence of effort in that area either. Cuts, not innovation, have been the order of the day. Shorter and shorter races prevail. This is small wonder as the industry is hopelessly introverted, and always has been. It refuses to look outside the square, as classically illustrated by its previous violent opposition to the arrival of online bookmakers and Betfair, despite the obvious wishes of the racing public. All is now lovey-dovey, of course, but years of income were forgone while that fight went on.
So do we blame the individuals or the system? In practical terms, only the latter can be guilty because the multi-person management structure means it is impossible to assign responsibility to any one person.
In short, the system is broken yet it is being continued at Racing NSW and, in all probability, will be followed again at GRNSW – and in every other state in the country. Queensland and Victoria have already had the opportunity to modernise their structures but both have decided to simply play musical chairs and persevere with a system that has proven not to work. When will the penny drop? It’s not the people, mate, it’s the system that is the problem.
Frying pan and the fire
We need an update of last week’s comment on Sweet It Is following reports in the NZ Sports News directly quoting stewards.
Apparently, the positive caffeine swab at the Auckland track arose because a premium kibble fed to the bitch contained “Green Tea”. Why anyone would put tea in a kibble is beyond our ken but the bigger question now is how much caffeine would end up in a greyhound after the manufacturer processed what we would assume is a small amount of tea in the mixture. All normal teas contain caffeine, of course, but in quite modest proportions. So do coffee and lots of other beverages and foods in the local supermarket.
The next question, more controversial, is what influence the (assumed) tiny amount of caffeine would have on the greyhound’s performance. It would have to be so close to zero as not to matter, but rules are rules.
Given the nature of the modern world, are those rules now adequate? Over the years I have often mentioned the potential for a dog to be affected by the odour of a poppy seed when walking past a hot bread shop. And, as Sports News also reported, NZ has found morphine in a batch of contaminated feed, affecting eight dogs in all. That sort of problem has occurred in Australia, too.
Lastly, the entire deal now becomes even messier as Sweet It Is’ recent swab at The Meadows contained, not caffeine, but cocaine. Oh, dear! That’s a whole new ball game.