Weblog: Our chief correspondent on the topical issues
A time to listen, learn and also stand proud
PANORAMA was undoubtedly very damaging to the wider public image of greyhound racing even if those involved with the sport find it hard to recognise and reconcile themselves with some of the allegations made.
But there is a bigger picture in terms of what allowed the programme to happen in the first place. Is it that the sport is institutionally corrupt, or is it that a seemingly automatic defence mechanism leads to a perception of a closed shop and disenfranchised/disgruntled stakeholders?
I firmly believe it is the latter and that is probably why Greyhound Trainers’ Association chairman Rick Holloway made what many believe was an unwise decision to be interviewed. Holloway still appears to command strong support from a committee which is in general of the grass roots/non contract-trainer variety although recent interventions by Seamus Cahill and John Mullins suggest it is more fragmented amongst professional ranks.
Holloway has been frustrated for more than two years to be embraced within the GBGB and there has been fault on both sides but it can certainly be argued that his blackballing directly led to a situation where he felt able to add credence to the Panorama programme. They have made him potentially dangerous and he is clearly prepared to use that weapon.
What Holloway said in the edited version of his interview was unremarkable and nothing he has not said before but it certainly gave the impression of an industry not listening, while conversely the GBGB’s much-debated decision not to appear was made to look like an indication it had something to hide.
In terms of drugs in the sport, which was the central plank of the programme before it departed on a number of tangents, I think the GBGB can hold its head high.
Those prepared to cheat will always try to beat the system but testing now is wide-ranging and highly specific as GBGB chief executive Barry Faulkner and press officer Simon Banks stridently pointed out when they did agree to a gentle grilling in front of the Sky Sports programme from Wimbledon on Tuesday.
Welfare is more difficult. Injury statistics, although shared with those groups involved in the Greyhound Forum, are not available to the general greyhound public and are non-track specific even within the Greyhound Forum.
If I was running a track, that’s how I would want it but does it make it right? Should there be more disclosure if and when remedial action is felt necessary and/or undertaken?
It is not hard to make a case that connections have a right to all the available information before deciding where to run their greyhounds - although there are many other factors than merely a track surface to be taken into account, why hide the stats?
And what about the fate of retired ex-racers? The GBGB deserves great credit for the manner in which it is now able to track a greyhound throughout its life but there is a disparity between the number retiring each year and those confirmed as re-homed.
Soon-to-depart RGT chief executive Peter Laurie last year stated that the re-homing of all retired greyhounds was an attainable objective and it has been suggested that around another £2.5 million in annual funding would facilitate that.
Rather than various factions trying to grab what they can from a diminishing pot, is that not a powerful case for a united greyhound fraternity to put before bookmakers to try to get them on board over Fund payments in regard of bets placed offshore?
Panorama could yet prove a cathartic moment but you get the impression the way greyhound racing moves is in the balance. Maybe we could have another expensive survey and ignore the findings as seems to have been the case with the 2013 owners’ questionnaire – by the way, the answer to that isn’t hard, owners want to be made to feel special.
I have read calls, including from Holloway, that the GBGB should not be allowed to self-regulate but have to wonder if the implications of losing Ukas accreditation are fully realised.
It would not stop GBGB running the sport, but welfare matters would pass to various local councils up-and-down the country resulting in a lack of consistency and trainers and tracks being at the whim of possible politically motived requirements.
It is, though, easy to say the sport should unite but everyone has to be listened to, rather than preached at in a ‘we know best’ manner, for that to be the case.
There is no doubt that greyhound racing faces massive scrutiny but should we be satisfied with saying that we fully comply with all legislation?
Greyhound folk are generally animal lovers and want the best for their charges but the line becomes blurred when trainers own too many of the greyhounds in their kennels and are reliant on them being active.
I am so proud of the industry in which I work, but want to be able to say without fearing contradiction ‘look at us, look at the way we operate’ rather than have my governing body stick its head in the sand.
If there is something wrong, then get it out in the open and put it right. It’s what the greyhound, and greyhound racing deserves.
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