Playing A Straight Bat

Written By Monday 20th August 2012  

Playing A Straight Bat

Yet another major sport is pointing the way.

Cricket Australia will move to a fully independent board inside three years, according to media reports. Previously it was dominated by separate state representatives, with greater numbers from the bigger states, each pushing its own agenda.

In the intervening period, CA will have three independent directors in a smaller nine-person board.

Rugby Union, easily the most parochial of all, is also planning to ditch its longstanding NSW-Queensland bias. Tennis is dragging the chain but all the football codes are now independently structured.

In contrast, national racing bodies – all codes – still rely on state by state directors and show few signs of addressing the need for independent views at any level.

NSW greyhounds claimed a shift to independent directors in its recent changeover. However, every member of the new board has, or has had, some association with racing bodies of one sort or another. On that basis, it will always be a battle to ensure that justice can be seen to be done. More importantly, the odds must be that we can expect more of the same, or, at best, some tinkering around the edges.

Since that system has produced a wholesale loss of market share over the last 20 years it is hard to see how it can be made to work this time round. Without new blood, the task of re-invigorating the industry, particularly its customer base, is a huge ask. Is anyone watching the Packer-World Series Cricket story on TV at the moment?

THE HERALD TOUCHES THE EDGES

If there is one truism in racing it is that crooks will always be present. Somebody is always going to try to rip cash out of the system by nefarious means.

Still, that’s true of a lot of industries and businesses as well. It’s why we have policemen and lawyers and courts – or racing stewards. Sometimes it works out well in the end, sometimes not.

Leaving aside the Victorian gallops problems for the moment, the Sydney Morning Herald has been vigorously interviewing people and attacking the greyhound industry in NSW. Fair enough, that’s part of their job. However, they might be making mountains out of molehills.

The SMH is quoting stories about organised crime and steroids, missing drug swabs, bikies and race fixers, and “betting to lose” exponents. Most of what it has is ancient history or hearsay but that’s not to say there might not be a grain of truth here and there. If so, then it should be rooted out and fixed.

The question of how it is all managed is another story again.

The revolving door on the office of the NSW Integrity Auditor is a clear problem. The clash there is between what the law establishing the office allows, what the IA wants to do and what GRNSW think he should do. All are a bit different, apparently. In any event, the IA is restricted to a certain area and no more.

Anyway, the SMH is not quite up to speed on “new rules” which it says encourage betting to lose. There are no new rules, of course, only a new player – to wit, Betfair – which allows punters to back or lay a runner. Both here and overseas, the only evidence about this practice is that it has helped the administration of racing. In the UK, where it all started, both police and The Jockey Club have specifically complimented Betfair for helping to identify and root out betting abuses – often ones that authorities would otherwise have missed completely.

As for drug use, no doubt there could be undetectable stuff in use today. We don’t really know so it is all guesswork. Meantime, what the big picture tells us is that there has been a massive improvement in the coverage and policing of drug offenses over the last 20 years. Whether something has been missed along the way – deliberately or otherwise – is always worthwhile finding out, whether from whistleblowers, stewards or whoever. That happened in the ICAC/Potter case, although the lax NSW administration also came under severe criticism at the time.

The SMH example of a race being fixed by having a dog run slowly, then “never to be seen again”, does stretch the imagination. To ignore that would require a Potter-like approach to stewardship. Now, I have seen plenty of cases where I think stewards have been too kind but swabbing in those sorts of cases is pretty routine, as it is for winners, so the perpetrators would have to have their fingers crossed that they did not get picked up. Hardly a good bet.

It is not uncommon for a dog to show a sudden improvement in form but, once again, it will have to walk the plank of swabbing when it wins. So what is the point, at least without illegal connivance from those supervising the job? Besides, there are lots of reasons for improvement to occur. The key point is that punters should be informed when such things are likely to occur, or do occur. That certainly happens at the gallops.

What the SMH failed to note is that it is common for drug investigations to take months to finalise, which is surely an unsatisfactory situation. Justice delayed is justice denied. That needs attention.

Meantime, the SMH has skipped over far bigger problems than stewards and drugs. For a start, the industry’s customer base has been steadily disappearing over the last 20 years. That’s about as basic as you can get. The industry has effectively ceded control to the TABs, but if you don’t like what they do, to whom do you complain? No Integrity Auditor or Ombudsman there.

And the product is deficient in respect to the quality of its tracks and the standard of its race fields. Those are factual matters which the industry’s managers could and should do something about. What it really needs is an independent Auditor to check how it is using punters’ money to run the show. But who would stir that pot? The Racing Ministers, perhaps, but their history on such matters is not encouraging. Unfortunately, they are a bit like the traditional cricket administrations; no two have the same ideas and seldom do they agree on anything. One thing they did agree on – banning Betfair – was a stupid decision anyway and never came into effect.

Unity and consistency in the racing industry will get a start only when the three codes each realise they must first dump state bias and establish powerful national bodies which are not only skilled but also accountable to the public they serve. Wally Edwards, Cricket Australia’s chairman, can explain how.

Bruce Teague Bruce Teague (281 Articles)

Bruce Teague has had a lifelong interest in greyhound racing as a modest punter. Over the last 20 years he has helped develop and market the GreyBase range of computer form analysis programs, and written extensively for several industry publications. He has inspected over 30 greyhound tracks in recent years in the three eastern states and Tasmania. Bruce has a lengthy background in international and domestic airline management involving economic route studies and numerous visits to overseas aircraft manufacturers. He has conducted consultancies for private and government clients on policy and economic subjects.



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