It was great to finally meet up last Wednesday at Happy Valley. I had a fabulous time in Hong Kong and I greatly appreciate all that you did in introducing me to the Hong Kong International Race meetings. It is definitely the “biggest show in town”. I thank both you and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
I’m writing this email to you at a personal level however please feel free to publish it if you wish.
It’s interesting and I guess natural to make observations and comparisons with our major carnivals in Australia. Further it is interesting to make general observations and comparison with racing in Australia.
Firstly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club. What an amazing institution. I have known for ages that it was an important institution in Hong Kong but not quite as important as I have now learned. I didn’t realise that the Hong Kong Jockey Club was the biggest taxpayer in Hong Kong and further donate approximately AU$700 million to the Hong Kong community through its charitable trusts. I also now understand that not only does the HKJC own and control all the wagering in Hong Kong but also owns the lotteries. Indeed a massive empire and business which clearly has been superbly led over many decades.
So that’s the first comparison. Arguably the Australian model is wrong, terribly wrong. The Australian industry needs to be fully nationalised with the nationalisation supported by the federal government. The state governments need to sort out their wagering tax revenue streams and step aside. Further I have consistently argued that the industry should own the tote. The privatisation of the tote in Australia in hindsight has probably been a big mistake and while Tabcorp and the corporate bookmakers provide significant and greatly appreciated funding to the industry it seems that we are beholden to them for our future. I don’t like the model.
Secondly it seems that racing in Hong Kong operates under a model which possibly provides for greater stability where the Hong Kong Jockey Club has commercial and regulatory control over every aspect of the industry. You simply don’t set up shop in Hong Kong, you need to be invited. You don’t simply turn up and ride in Hong Kong, you need to be invited. Stable numbers are capped at 60 horses, possibly a very good thing. If you perform as a trainer and a jockey, you do well and your invitation is extended. If you don’t, you are shown the door. The rules are well entrenched. I may be wrong but I don’t think integrity is an issue in Hong Kong. The industry appears to be a happy industry at every level and importantly owners and punters feel they are competing on a level playing field.
We have some wonderful participants in our Australian industry including owners, punters, trainers, jockeys, stable hands, readers and many others. They deserve a better model.
As to the Hong Kong International, yes it was a fabulous week of racing in Hong Kong. In fairness to Australia we also have some fabulous carnivals, certainly in Sydney and Melbourne. Our carnivals are different but they are still fabulous.
What I will say however is that we in Australia could do a lot about the following:
Bogan’s (I hate the word but it means larrikins /unsophisticated/unrefined people). Sadly we have a lot of those who attend major sporting events in Australia including race meetings. I truly wish that Australia as a nation could stand up and say “bogans not welcome and will be removed”. We have a huge cultural and drinking problem in Australia. We aren’t alone because the same problem seems to exist in the UK, parts of the US and in New Zealand. It’s time for our leaders to stand up and declare that this sort of behaviour is no longer acceptable and won’t be tolerated.
I was reminded of the bogans from down under as I boarded my return flight home, sitting in Qantas business class. A few rows away there were six or eight Aussie guys who had apparently attended the races as guests of a corporate bookmaker. One of them in a very loud voice yelled to his mate before the flight departed “how much did that sheila cost you for the couple of days”. He knew he was broadcasting to a wide and attentive audience. Classy, very classy and that’s the sort of behaviour that I’m referring to.
In Hong Kong it appeared that all racegoers were very well mannered, dignified and respectful. I didn’t see any loud mouthed men running around with bottles of beer in their hands or any women misbehaving and I observed all corners of the track.
The service at all levels was fantastic, attentive, helpful and respectful. Even when you had a bet the people at the window when handing over the ticket would say “Good luck Sir”. So that’s different, it’s polite and gentlemanly. That doesn’t happen Australia.
The hotels, the taxi drivers were all switched in to the Hong Kong International. Nothing was too much trouble. They were always terribly helpful for example travel directions were written in Chinese to make communication a lot easier.
In the Sydney Morning Herald article of 11 December 2016 titled what Sydney can learn from the Hong Kong International Racing carnival Andrew Webster says amongst other things; “Racing New South Wales Chief Executive Peter V’landys believes there are lessons to be learned from others, even if Hong Kong is vastly different to Australia. “You always learn from other racing jurisdictions V’landys said. In particular, both Hong Kong and Japan do extremely well. They’re both very professional and Hong Kong has a brilliant marketing plan and has designed its facilities to attract all demographics. Their facilities for the 20-30-year-old demographic are exceptional”.
My response to this and to Peter is that is not just the marketing plan, we have those: it’s the culture. And it’s not about the facilities for the 20-30-year-olds; we also have those so please don’t blame facilities: it’s about the culture.
Perhaps once we get the culture right in Australia many positive things will follow. We will start getting people back to the track; we will again get the right class of person engaged in the Sydney Carnival and in Sydney racing.
Any cultural change must start at the top. It must start with our leaders; our leaders would be well advised to focus on the industry’s culture.
Please pass on my thanks, congratulations and compliments to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a joyous festive season.