Queensland is out looking for answers but it does not seem to have worked out the questions yet.
Kevin Dixon, the pro-tem boss of Racing Queensland, comes from a racing family and was recently chairman of the Brisbane Racing Club. He has promised a completely different approach to that of his predecessor (Bob Bentley), and wants greyhound participants to “be able to come to the governing body with a problem”. That’s nice but what does it mean and how will it help?
A further confusion arises as the new structure is to comprise “statutory bodies controlling each of the codes under one Board of Directors”. That’s four organisations replacing one, which replaced three. Sounds both expensive and messy. Time will tell.
But consider some of Dixon’s policy promises. His statements to the public and to prominent journalist greyhound David Brasch include these three:
“We are trying to find out just what the industry wants”.
This is a direct reference to the views of owners and trainers and how the new board would then apply “control and regulation”. No doubt consultation like this is important and worthwhile but it has little or nothing to do with the state of the industry today, only to how races are run.
Even then, the recent go-around with the finish-on lure proved an abortive example of that consultation. All the hard evidence said it was a good thing – injuries were lower, chasing was harder in both Queensland and SA - but enough trainers protested to cause the authority to revert to the old system. So who is in charge?
Anyway, nuts and bolts are one thing, corporate strategy quite another.
Dixon “sees greyhound, and other codes, selecting the new boards that would control their industry”.
This is the big one. It implies that participants would choose board members who are attuned to their needs - ones who support whatever views they have expressed. In other words, what has gone on during past decades. Yet those decades have failed to make a mark, let alone produce growth and prosperity. In fact, Queensland is a basket case by comparison with other states, judging by the number and quality of their dogs. Both have been in decline for years now. Previous administrations, whether the old QGRA or the composite Racing Queensland group, have not only failed to make their presence felt but have not taken any action to reverse the slide. The band has been playing while the ship goes down.
On top of that, such a selection process has been condemned by Queensland government consultants KPMG, by the Australian Institute of Sport, and even by former racing chief, Bob Bentley, who termed it “madness”. It runs counter to other greyhound administrations in Australia and to common practice amongst successful companies which demand a fair degree of independence.
“I want dog punters to increase the size of their bets”.
This wish has all the hallmarks of a kid fronting up to Santa Claus. It is also impracticable. Queensland punters are burdened with Tatts, the smallest of the three main TAB operators in Australia. While greyhound betting pools are often worryingly small down south, they are far more dismal in Queensland (or SA). Consequently, any local punter wanting to double or triple his bet would be crazy to use Tatts and thereby chop his dividend to bits. He would obviously go to the Victorian or NSW pools or to NT bookies, or all three. Dixon clearly does not understand the issue. What he should be doing is making a case for a national betting pool which would then give Queenslanders something realistic to use.
Betting aside, Dixon makes no mention at all of what the industry’s customers are doing or how they regard the product on offer. There is no indication that he will be asking them anything, let alone conducting some serious research to check out their habits and motivations, or the prospect of gaining new customers.
However, while he is on his circuit, Dixon might well ask some leading participants what they think about Queensland tracks. Half a dozen top trainers have already gone on record about the unsatisfactory nature of both Albion Park and Ipswich tracks (interviewed in the Recorder two years ago). Both have significant design problems, particularly for young dogs starting out, matters which some trainers claim have forced them over to northern NSW tracks.
In turn, what does that promise for the design of the upcoming new complex at Logan (however that emerges from the new government’s economy campaign)? Surely that’s worth some serious advance study, too? No word from Dixon there.
The Dixon approach, so far, has a lot of commonality with the way the tennis club down the road is run. But that is just a sport for the locals. Racing is a first and foremost serious business. It has long since stopped being just a sport - as it was when Dixon first experienced dog racing at Orange many years ago.
Unless things change radically, the outlook for Queensland is more of the same, or maybe less. It needs an independent approach from someone who can analyse the challenges, pull in customers and devise a winning strategy. I wonder if Mal Meninga is too busy to take it on?