Bastille Day has come and gone for another year, and outside of France, few, if any, either understand its significance or give a toss about it. It’s exactly where Australian racing is at this point in time. The contrast with Hong Kong is stark. And sadly so.
Whilst the two models are poles apart, and one needs to be careful of finding common ground for valid comparison, there are nevertheless areas where the stunning and glaring differences pose the obvious question: Why?
Where the atmosphere at the recent end of season meeting at Shatin and at Happy Wednesday each week at Happy Valley is infectiously upbeat, the atmosphere at every one of Australia’s race courses, with the exception of Flemington at spring carnival time, is almost, well, grim. What could and should be a fairytale is, these days, grim.
Australian racing is angry with itself. It reflects a growing anger within the community, which is creeping into a society that is looking increasingly like the character Howard Beale in the classic movie “Network”- angry, frustrated and stark raving mad at everything.
Australia is in a “greed is good” epidemic and the victims – right across the mainstream of its increasingly dysfunctional society- is becoming less cohesive and increasingly aggressive, conflict-driven and violent in dispute resolution.
Picking a fight has become a common weekend pastime in every State. Australians have lost whatever faith they had in their politicians and in their social, political and sporting institutions.
The domino effect of anger and aggression has descended into Australian racing and is palpably evident across all levels of the sport.
Governing Bodies taking on each other- and clubs and stakeholders. Clubs taking on Clubs and stakeholders. Stakeholders turning on each other and Stakeholder groups fracturing within their own ranks, while social media trolls make their familiar loud and uneducated commentary about anything and everything in racing and slander anyone who dares to bring rational and logical thinking into a debate. It’s not a pretty picture.
Pick up a newspaper or switch on a radio station or turn on a television station and racing bares its ugly side, warts and all. It’s one against the other with a rapacious media pack actively turning it into a feeding frenzy more suited to the landscape of the Kalahari, where the survival of the fittest play out as a daily ritual.
Where Hong Kong sets itself benchmarks based on performance, and makes no apology for doing so, Australian racing is all about giving “the battlers” a go. Nothing wrong with an egalitarian view of the world, but how do you deal with the scores of trainers, jockeys, owners and breeders that don’t make it through their own shortcomings, inadequacies or, cutting to the chase, those that are just not good enough?
The uncomfortable reality is that Australian racing is overflowing with participants who believe that the world, and in this instance, the racing industry, owes them a living.
Their unspoken mantra is that mediocrity must not only be tolerated, but subsidized. And their anger with their inability to come to terms with the reality that the problems they face are overwhelmingly of their own making and through their own fault, and that they alone control their own destiny, leads them to take it out on their nearest moving target.
It is racing’s biggest problem in trying to break through to the generation that in Hong Kong is voting with its feet and are shiny happy people each Wednesday at Happy Valley.
The anger in the voices and faces of some of the best known “names” in Australian racing, enthusiastically and actively encouraged by the racing media in print and on radio, is such a turn-off it almost behoves the industry administrators to do something about it.
Do nothing to address it and it becomes racing’s mission impossible. To expect the generation coming through to turn a blind eye to an industry consumed with anger, aggression and hatred when there is so much of that surrounding them in mainstream Australian society is a bridge too far.
The Australian racing community is overpopulated by sanctimonious individuals across every layer of administration, every participant group and precious prima donnas in the racing media constantly ringing the monotonous bell that goes under the pseudonym of Integrity. Ding Dong, clang and clutter.
Everyone knows that in their very own way, these opportunists are the worst culprits when it comes to actually lacking integrity, and are happy as Larry and Sally to be sycophantic mouthpieces deeply embedded in the pockets of the power brokers who delusionally believe that in the modern world, bully boy and girl tactics can actually work outside the narrow confines in their own neglected backyards.
It is nauseating in the extreme to hear the loud and irrational rants of those facing serious integrity charges protesting their so-called innocence.
It rekindles the passionate denials in the not too distant past of the Lance Armstrongs, the Hansie Cronjes, and even many in Australian racing who make fools of those who spring to their defence, only to find that they do an about face and plead guilty and cop the punishment that is meted out to them. It’s hypocrisy at work on a grand scale and is a reminder of the ending to the truism “he or she who protest loudest”.
The factionalism, division, hatreds, jealousies, vindictiveness- every one of the “seven deadly sins” and more- have been allowed to thrive and prosper in Australian racing.
They have become so embedded in the DNA of Australian racing that it will need a miracle of modern science to exorcise them. In every issue confronting Australian racing and on every issue deliberately created by the power brokers and their sycophantic allies who sell their souls for “twenty pieces of silver”, there is conflict. It is conflict of the worst kind, promoted and oxygenated with the thunderous applause of a compliant and agenda-driven racing media.
For the many well-intentioned and rational souls in racing who forlornly cling to the hope that Australian racing will cleanse itself of its sins and start the slow climb back to earning a position of respect in the community, think again.
Unlike the NRL, the AFL, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, or for that matter any sport which has a national regulatory and governing body which governs and regulates nationally and speaks with one voice, racing’s supreme body masquerades under the title of Racing Australia.
Like Jumping Jack Flash, Racing Australia is a toothless, bearded hag with no authority to perform the role that its grandstanding title would suggest or actually imply. Neither it nor its predecessor, the Australian Racing Board, commanded any respect across any sector of Australian racing.
Driven by division and state boundaries, it was and always will be divided by the interests and agendas of New South Wales and Victoria. It won’t change as long as the mistrust and simmering feuds and hatreds between the two States continue. Racing needs to, but has no hope of speaking with “one voice”, short of divine intervention.
As for the generation coming through and “joe public”, all they see and hear are a bunch of angry men and women in racing playing out their feuds and hatreds, their vindictiveness and aggression in public.
Would you blame your sons and daughters and your mates for politely turning down the opportunity to be part of Australian racing?