By Keyser Soze
MOMENTUM SHIFT ON ILLEGAL BETTING…
The timely and unambiguous closing statement of last week’s Asian Racing Conference by Asian Racing Federation (ARF) Chairman and Hong Kong Jockey Club Chief Executive Winfried Engelbrecht－Bresges proposing the establishment of a regional task force to develop an ARF Anti-Illegal Betting Strategy, is an overwhelmingly positive step in the right direction.
Significantly, Engelbrecht－Bresges acknowledged that “individual nations alone acting alone will not be able to stem the tide”, and that “this will be a multi-pronged strategy incorporating research and intelligence, media, government submissions, links with law enforcement agencies and identification of key influencers”, similar to the sentiments we expressed last week on addressing this global threat to the integrity of sport.
Racing jurisdictions can no longer choose to play the role of bystanders and expect other agencies to shoulder responsibilities for dealing with the twin problems of the impacts of off-shore illegal betting operators, and corruption and race fixing. They enjoy a symbiotic relationship. One trail inevitably leads to the other.
This holistic approach to addressing the problem, one which transcends the narrow boundary of racing, and has, in recent times, morphed into something akin to a “super virus” affecting every popular competitive sport which attracts wagering and offers substantial, and at times, grossly excessive financial rewards for sustained elite performance, is attracting the attention and gathering support among many key decision makers and respected public opinion influencers in the community.
Respected Australian sports journalist and media commentator Patrick Smith editorialized in The Australian newspaper that “Canberra (the Federal Government), must act on corruption in sport”. He called for “an Australian independent anti-corruption body for sport appointed by the national government and supported by all sports and codes. All sports are struggling to identify and control corrupt practices within their sports. Not even bodies like the AFL or NRL have been able to quarantine their clubs and players from performance enhancing drugs”. Taking a baseball bat to tennis administrators, he rightly observes that “what isn’t corrupt in sport will be. Where you can bet you can cheat”. Bullseye!
At the risk of being repetitive, sport governing bodies are completely ill-equipped to deal with corruption. Full stop. They are so grossly under-resourced, financially and with manpower, deprived of access to qualitative intelligence, and in many cases, legislatively road blocked from intelligence sharing, and hopelessly deprived of even the most basic coercive powers, that it provides a continuing “free kick” to criminals and their agents of corruption to operate openly and without fear of impunity.
Even our dear old mate Peter ”toffee tongue” McGauran, wearing his Racing Australia Chief Executive’s frothy and frilly headgear, was supportive of the ARF’s proposals and efforts to pressure governments to disrupt the activities of unlicensed offshore bookmakers. In a submission to the Federal Government’s review of on-line gambling legislation, Racing Australia has called for the Federal Government to block access to off-shore bookmaking sites and criminalize the act of betting with an off-shore betting company, exposing those who do to potential Federal Police prosecution. The submission also calls for legislation blocking Australian banks from processing deposits into the accounts of unlicensed foreign bookmakers.
To be effective, all Australian sports must be singing from the same songbook. They must wholeheartedly put the blow torch of the Federal Government for action to establish without any bureaucratic delay, a properly resourced national anti-corruption body with wide ranging powers. Otherwise, the sanctity and integrity of sport, and the enjoyment that it provides for the many millions of its citizens will not only be compromised, but lost forever. The same goes for every racing jurisdiction that attended the Asian Racing Conference- and for every sport in every little corner of the world.
TIME TO HIRE A REAL SPINNER, PETE…
Racing administrators unlike their counterparts in many other sports have a habit of making proper “dicks” of themselves. It’s one of the most compelling reasons why they need professional “spin doctors” and five star trouble shooters when they want to have a real crack at stirring the pot and getting under the skin of rivals.
The blindingly absurd and plainly comical statements attributed to Racing NSW Chief Executive Peter Vlundies in the Fairfax dailies on Thursday on the 30 minute gap between races trial being undertaken by NSW racing’s despised competitor across the border in Victoria once again should be a reminder of Mark Twain’s famous quote: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”.
To Racing Victoria’s credit, they have again demonstrated that they are not averse to change. That they are prepared to roll the dice and proactively trial initiatives for the betterment of racing and its “50,000” participants. Recently, and with a mountain of opposition, they went out on a limb to take control of their IP and media rights and established their stand alone broadcast channel Racing.com to showcase and promote Victorian racing. They put their balls on the line underpinning their expensive “experiment” with their own hard earned cash, and, innovatively for racing, they joint-ventured with Australia’s premier free to air television network – Seven. From all reports it is working on all fronts.
In NSW, and in Australia’s most vibrant city, Sydney, it’s a different ball game. Save for the Championships – and that was the brainchild of the “messiah”- change appears to be at best a last resort when all other options are exhausted and has to be brought in like a protesting juvenile, dragging and screaming and against their will to the table.
Vlundies’ comments were a mix of contradiction, agitation and a very dubious attempt at political one upmanship that has turned embarrassingly pear shaped. It revived the worst aspects of the often bitter, damaging, wasteful and pointless rivalry between the two biggest States with little more than bragging rights as to which State can legitimately lay claim to being the Premier racing state. In this undignified feud, the interests of the “50,000” participants are the “sacrificial lambs”.
According to Adam Pengilly’s report, Vlundies claimed that Racing Victoria’s week-long test of the 30 minute gaps between races policy will compromise rider safety and shrink wagering when it comes into play this Saturday.
Compromise rider safety? “The advice I’ve got from stewards is you are compromising safety. When a jockey rides in a race you have to remember the exertion it takes – especially in a staying race – and they’ve got to back up 20 minutes later. It’s giving them no time to recuperate”, Vlundies is quoted as saying.
Embarrassing, isn’t it, possums. Wonder how Ray Murrihy and his panel are coping with the flak? Just for the record, we ask aloud, how in heaven’s name have the Jockeys riding in Hong Kong, at Royal Ascot and a host of other places on this planet, cope with the “inhumane” demands of their racing authorities to put themselves through such torture? Perhaps Sydney and NSW jockeys should build a shrine to Vlundies, preferably away from a racetrack, in honour of his noble efforts to place their welfare above all else. Sorry to disappoint you, Pete, but even your mates in the corporate booker sector aren’t interested in giving away any of their surging revenues by offering a market about such an illusion ever happening.
Media reports and social media suggest Vlundies is marooned – the only man on a deserted island on this one. The Victorian jockeys have come out in full support of the shortened race days as have the Queensland jockeys, and in what will not please Vlundies, the natives in his own backyard are starting to get very, very restless about much of what is happening or not happening in NSW.Chris Waller has spoken publicly in support of the shortening the race day.
Vlundies also has a very short memory, or maybe he is ageing rapidly when he accuses the Victorians of going in unilaterally and making these changes: “We’re not the only ones being affected – it’s every other state in Australia. It’s not in the spirit of cooperation and it’s very disappointing”.
Spirit of cooperation? A tad rich perhaps coming from someone who broke ranks with the rest of the racing world, co-signatories to the International Horse Racing Federation rules and protocols and re-licensed poor old Chris Munce when he was serving a Hong Kong racing ban. Perhaps some of the “other states’ may wish to pass judgment on the spirit of cooperation they have had from Racing NSW over the years. But don’t bother asking the Victorians. We know what their response will be.
And on the question of wagering, again there is absolutely no evidence that a shortened race day will permanently affecting wagering revenue. Sports fans are voting with their feet in favour of shorter and more compressed sporting events and sports formats.
Wonder how the “messiah” is feeling about his management genius these days? Let’s just hope the NRL this time makes him an offer he just cannot refuse.
WHO IS RACING’S MR BUBBLES?
Why do racing clubs hire such mediocre people-and with such increasing regularity? Finally, get rid of one useless oaf, and two other blobs appear to the bewilderment of those watching this ongoing comedy of errors.
We have banged on about how poorly racing is often marketed, and that few racing employees understand how to use 21st Century tools like social media- despite all the pretenses that they do. And, now we find ourselves in a speeding car on a freeway cloverleaf, coming full circle in a large automobile. Where does that highway go to? Inevitably, the Human Resources Department where, in racing clubs, “the hiring process” is revealed as just another way horseracing shows its penchant for letting the days go by.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that racing desperately needs decision makers who are able to see beyond the mask presented in a CV, and who are not completely blind to the consequences of selecting one so-called human resource over another. Because, when the Human Resources Department is asleep at the wheel, the end result is a wreck outsiders can’t wait to write off: a painfully long contract with some sanctimonious hard core know-it-all who treats the vast majority of people, both in racing and in the wider world, like acolytes of a lesser god. And, this does the biggest disservice of all to horse racing and to every fan who is trying, in their own way, to show their enthusiasm for it.
What a slap in the face to all the loyal minions who try their best to be supportive only to learn that, for example, one recent hire at a racing club has been unmasked as the epitome of obsequiousness, and is described by those who know his modus operandi as “sanctimonious and petty” and “a bag of hot air.” We just call him racing’s Mr Bubbles.
The fact that such a fatuous creature could successfully get through “the hiring process” to obtain a management position is beyond being a bad running gag with no punchline in sight. And, it shows, yet again, why racing is where it is on the world map of sports and entertainment: Nowhere.
Validating self-serving, arrogant “experts”- like Mr Bubbles- by giving them jobs will ensure racing will never truly innovate or change enough to attract and retain new fans- and bring in the new players from other industries that horse racing desperately needs for it to grow its customer base.
To effect that kind of change – the kind racing says it wants and needs – clubs need to swear off hiring mediocrity, recognise the shamans, and unmask the silly politics of these big fish swimming in their small ponds, so as not to end up standing around in a daze asking, “How did we get here, Sherlock?”
Seek out hires who are creative and truly passionate- and who will be true servants to racing without being the political opportunists with self-serving agendas that are as transparent as their ill-fitting blue suits and Dale Carnegie courses in body language and shuck and jive. We see right through you, Mr. Bubbles.