WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
“The blight must stop”, declared Fairfax’s Sunday Age editorial’s opening line on cheating, drugs and corruption in sport. Whilst a true and accurate reflection of a restless and increasingly angry community comprising a diverse sports loving fan base desperate for a circuit breaker to be effective, this opening line, and the sentiments in what is an excellent editorial, must quickly evolve into a “war cry” which forces those who can answer the challenge to do so. Without delay.
There’s not a sport which has escaped the insidious influence of corruption and manipulation. It’s no different to dealing with an addiction of any type. Whatever the sport matters little. Sports administrators and their Boards MUST first recognize and admit they have a problem. And they all do. Then, and only then, can they be taken seriously by law enforcement and crime stopping agencies and Governments. Only then will they have a fighting chance of getting community support to properly fund and resource the uphill battle against criminality in sport.
The recent entry of the once “pristine” and dignified sport of tennis into the “sports corruption club”, and the startling court case in Toowoomba in Queensland, geographically close to red neck country of alleged match fixing in a relatively minor tennis tournament, demonstrates that corruption does not discriminate when it comes to match fixing. The criminals, match fixers, and their collusive participants and their coterie are criminal opportunists motivated exclusively by financial gain.
Cricket, Athletics, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Cycling, and, of course, Racing, to name a few, are all tarred with the same corrupt brush. The AFL and NRL are just a cats whisker behind them. Whilst most of these sports have, or are close to embracing a zero tolerance code to match fixing and corruption with a mix of lengthy bans and in some instances life bans, and career ending penalties, whether such sport imposed penalties by the various governing bodies is a sufficient deterrent and effective weapon in addressing the problem is questionable.
Many sports are quickly realizing that much more is needed. The insidious nature of corruption in sport, driven by the almost unlimited financial gain which flows from it, clearly undermines sporting governing bodies, with their limited financial and manpower resources, and access to criminal intelligence, to have a serious crack at rooting out what has become a global epidemic.
Figures quoted at the Asian Racing Conference quantifying the leakage of wagering dollars to illegal bookmakers on Hong Kong racing alone of about $12.8 billion, annually, closely matching its own legitimate turnover of $13.8 billion, should send shivers down the spine of every racing jurisdiction- and more pointedly- EVERY Government, not just in these countries, but every country on the planet – sport being the one universal language.
The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and has been so for a very long time, and it is a mission impossible exercise to put it back where it belongs by taking the same road home- alone.
Leaving the racing and sporting governing bodies to tackle corruption and match fixing is exactly what has enabled the criminal masterminds and their lackeys to thrive and prosper.
Without Government involvement on an international scale, sharing resources and information, and a financial commitment to match, the very heart and soul of sport of a fair and level competition, stands threatened.
Worryingly, the generations coming through will be accustomed to a sporting culture which is tainted and corrupt and where match fixing, cheating and corruption will be treated with a shrug of the shoulder and a dismissive “So what?” response.
Racing cannot escape the reality that it has to confront the enemy. It must be prepared to review, revisit and toughen up its integrity processes and penalties. And in doing so, it must also be proactive in vigorously defending the rules of racing and adopt a zero tolerance approach to race fixing, cheating and the use of prohibited performance enhancing substances.
This is key: Racing must also vigorously lobby Governments and law enforcing agencies at all levels to remove any legislative impediments to information sharing between its Integrity departments and law enforcement agencies.
Governments with even the most basic numeracy skills would recognize the financial windfall which they would inherit on an on-going basis if illegal bookmakers were stamped out. It’s a magical and seductive three letter word called TAX.
Diverting funds from flowing into the bank accounts of illegal bookmakers, domestically and internationally, to legitimate wagering operators is a potent enough argument which even the most naïve Governments would understand. Now is not the time to tolerate Yes, Minister fools sitting there waiting for their golden handshakes.
Now is the time to jet propel them into action- and lead this fight. It can no longer not be their problem. If the problem lies in the Philippines, the government there must be forced- or shamed- into doing something about it. Now.
Whether racing has the vision, strategy, commitment, belief and, ultimately, the balls to undertake such a massive challenge is the question that everyone with an interest in racing must ask.
Again it boils down to LEADERSHIP. Or the lack of it. With one, or at the most, two exceptions, racing worldwide is totally bereft of Leadership. Let’s not kid ourselves. There are very few dynamic individuals who can lead racing out of the wilderness and into the promised land, which “plodders” and their counterparts have so often failed to deliver to their “50,000” participants.
Who loses out? Horse racing, all who support it, and those who want to see it thrive- and not hobble along until it finally breaks down and dies. The wheel is not only broke, it’s fallen off. Fix it, plodders!
SPIN: ALIVE AND WELL AT THE ARC
To the very best of our knowledge, Shane Warne, the king of spin, wasn’t sighted at the recently concluded Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai. And as any cricket aficionado would acknowledge, the Indian sub-continent is a spinner’s paradise.
So, it was no surprise that the Conference unearthed a spinner or two among its list of keynote speakers.
If there was an award for the best spinner, then it is hard to go past Marie May Dangol, who carries the impressive title of Racing Administration and International Affairs Manager for the ailing and near extinct Macau Jockey Club.
Ms Dangol’s presentation in the business session identifying fresh angles to improve racing gave delegates an insight into “the Club’s efforts to innovate for horse buyers partnering with Australasian sales companies to bring their live auctions direct to and creating opportunities for Macau horse buyers”, and continuing with the stunning observation that “the bidding process is just as if our audience is at the sale ring in Australia or New Zealand”, with “specialized equipment allowing for live no-delay streaming, high definition audio and video of the sales arena to our racecourse”. What’s she been smoking, man?
From our own observations over the past several years, and in recent times, the Macau Jockey Club’s Taipa racetrack, stabling area and surrounds tell an unedifying, depressing and shameful story of neglect. And this exterior of neglect and decay has translated into a racing environment which has had the soul ripped out of it with an alarming decline in horse population and Trainers, Owners, Administrators and the like facing the demise of racing in the former Portuguese colony. Macau racing has degenerated into something akin to “Hicksville”. Macau’s infamous form reversals, last minute tote fluctuations, which are uncannily accurate predictors of race outcomes, regular changes of expatriate management, tell a story which does not need elaboration. Let’s not even get into what goes on in Macau- and comes out of the washing machines.
Speculation over the future of racing in Macau has intensified in recent years, fuelled by the failure of the Macau Jockey Club to guarantee that the racecourse and its precinct will not be the venue for the newest casino and gaming architectural monstrosity in what is now referred to as the “Vegas of the East”. Combined with what many now regard as wilful neglect of racing and the racing infrastructure leads to the inevitable conclusion that racing in Macau might- at best- have a year, or at the very best, a two year stay of execution.
So, when Ms Dangol, bless her cotton socks, paints a picture of ‘innovation” for the handful or so of owners and trainers, it genuinely raises the spectre of the organizers of the ARC introducing some black humour to break up the monotony of some of its sessions.
But Ms Dangol was not alone. Reading a synopsis of the presentation of Dr Elliot Forbes, Chief Executive of Tasmanian racing, it would have been easy to believe that our Aussie mates were also in Cheech and Chong land. Like Macau racing, Tasmanian racing is known to be an endangered species hovering on the cusp of extinction. Not so, apparently. Dr Forbes’ presentation portrayed an industry surging ahead and enjoying “remarkable growth”. Man, what weed have these guys been inhaling? Can we have some of the Kool-Aid?
With enticing figures of a 30 per cent growth in wagering, 53 per cent growth in racing revenues and a 200 per cent growth in international wagering revenues, surely the jockeys, trainers, owners and breeders in the Apple Isle must be in urgent need of medical attention to treat their delusional concerns and paranoia over the future of Tasmanian racing. Or maybe, just maybe, the “doctor” in Dr Forbes’ moniker has just more to do with mastering the art of “spin”?
Tasmanian racing in recent years has been regarded as a basket case by just about all stakeholder groups in the Apple Isle. Despite the “surge” described by Dr Forbes, prize money in Tasmania is embarrassing, the breeding industry is confined to a handful- if that- of commercial breeders. Trainer and Owner numbers are in continual decline, and it is not uncommon for mainland jockeys to be subsidized with their travel costs to help make up the numbers in Tasmania. Hardly a reflection of the good doctor’s buoyant description of the health of his patient.
RIGHT ON THE MONEY, GREG NICHOLS!
He is one of the most respected racing administrators and racing minds in world racing. So when Greg Nichols, former Chief Executive of the British Horse Racing Board, and presently a Member of the Board of Racing Victoria, opines on racing matters, they command the respect and attention which they deserve.
Nichols ventured into territory that many of his peers would not have the balls to enter. Passing judgment on the state of racing’s fifth estate aka the racing media, was bound to get some of those masquerading as racing journalists out of hiding and venting their predictable rage at being outed for the degeneration of their profession – one which, thankfully, in several countries in the northern hemisphere still has a heartbeat.
Not so down under, which led Nichols to opine that Australia has no racing journalists currently – racing writers and pundits, yes, but no journalists. For those needing convincing, just take a cursory glance at the drivel that comes out of some of the News Limited racing writers. It’s akin to the shock jocks on commercial radio and television, feeding the insatiable appetites of simpletons who get their kicks being frenzied by jingoistic clichés and hyperbole.
It is one of racing’s major roadblocks to gaining traction among the younger and savvy demographic coming through. Imagine listening to and watching some of the voices and torsos of some of these dinosaurs speaking in languages that only their own ilk would understand. Second thoughts don’t. It’s scary.
One of the more interesting conversations in the aftermath of the hugely successful New Zealand yearling sales this week has been Peter Moody’s bidding at the top end of the market. The embattled trainer, fighting to save his career from charges relating to a cobalt positive to one of his horses, to the surprise of many, had an impeccably bred Savabeel colt knocked down to a syndicate of which he figures prominently for the second top price in the sale -$825,000. Not bad going for an “embattled” trainer.
What had tongues wagging furiously though was his losing bid on the sale topper- the majestically bred Frankel colt who sold for $1.3 million. Moody has certainly made his presence felt at both the Magic Millions and New Zealand sales, and his clients have demonstrated a brand of loyalty, rare- extremely rare- in racing.
Meanwhile, Michelle Payne’s promise to return to the serious business of race riding after her post-Melbourne Cup “sabbatical” may lead to patching up her differences with Melbourne Cup winning trainer Darren Weir and resuming their successful business partnership. Michelle’s achievement is firmly etched in sporting and cultural history and the “fun haters” should take a deep breath and cut her a bit more slack than they have . Michelle has handled her new found fame with a lot more style and grace than many others in racing. You go, girl.