The public has got it wrong about racing

Nathan Absalom Roar Guru

By Nathan Absalom, Nathan Absalom is a Roar Guru


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    Where to next for greyhound racing in NSW? (Rainer Hungershausen / Flickr)

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    Every year around Melbourne Cup time there are seems to be a series of articles heavily critical of horse racing, most are easily dismissed as transparent virtue signalling rather than a serious discussion of animal welfare.

    This year, however, The Conversation published an article calling for horse racing to be subjected to a “social license”. In it, the authors are pushing the concept that having a social license will lead to better welfare outcomes for the horses.

    Articles such as these need a response, because they come with the implied authority that the publication brings through their reliance on being authored by academics. But I feel that this article does not come with the solid foundation of evidence that it ought to be based.

    The reason for this is that we have a case study to test their assertions. After the Special Commission into Greyhound Racing in NSW we are able to compare a jurisdiction that tried to impose the idea of a “social license” to Victoria, one that spent their money on animal welfare initiatives instead.

    This means we have a nice, clean ‘natural experiment’ where for the last two years we had two jurisdictions pursuing very different ideologies in Australia with respect to greyhound racing in response to the live-baiting scandal.

    In NSW the Government set up a Special Commission for Greyhound Racing in an attempt to determine if greyhound racing had a social license.

    In Victoria, however, they opted to invest heavily on animal welfare instead, increasing their education and regulatory functions and expanding their already formidable greyhound adoption program.

    How did the two approaches fare? By taking the data from current and previous annual reports, we can compare two animal welfare outcomes that were given as critical by critics of greyhound racing; the number of greyhounds bred and the number of greyhounds adopted into the community after they finished racing.

    Below is a graph of the number of greyhound litters bred in NSW (red) and Victoria (black) over the past four financial years. Both jurisdictions saw a massive reduction in the numbers of litters and while NSW had a bigger reduction, one has to remember there was a period of three months where people literally weren’t allowed to breed greyhounds in NSW.

    So, on the breeding side there wasn’t so much difference, a marginally bigger difference in NSW but no more. What about rehoming greyhounds, an activity that is surely far more important to the welfare of greyhounds than simply not breeding them?

    Here’s the graph of greyhounds adopted out by the governing authority over the last four financial years.

    Here there is an undisputed winner, with the money spent on Victoria’s greyhound adoption program reaping huge rewards and an improving NSW still playing catch-up. When the retired greyhounds of owners and trainers are included, more greyhounds were placed into homes after racing than were born last year in Victoria.

    Victoria’s greyhound adoption program has now become so successful that it can’t keep expanding, simply because there aren’t going to be an increasing number of greyhounds needing homes.

    So, why the difference? Well, the annual reports make it clear. In Victoria they have completed the majority of their reform program and are dealing with the details, moving to a “business as usual” approach as the CEO announced last month.

    In contrast, NSW were hamstrung by the costs imposed by the Government through the Special Commission of Inquiry. Legal fees had skyrocketed and the Government quarantined money for no apparent reason.


    The end result being that the welfare of greyhounds did not improve in NSW in the same way as Victoria, directly as a result of the attempts to quantify a “social license”. Instead millions of dollars, yes millions, that should have gone to the greyhounds themselves was pocketed by the lawyers whose claims have been completely contradicted in a very short time frame.

    But then, what of horse racing? Well the thoroughbreds, both in NSW and Victoria, have moved to a model where a slice of prizemoney is put into a pot of money directly for horse welfare, not much different to the basic model that GRV have so successfully implemented.

    Sure, mount an argument they’re not spending enough money or that the money is not being spent well enough if you wish, but the evidence is clear that the basic model that the thoroughbreds are pursuing is the right one.

    But the idea that putting money into the hands of lawyers to argue about the concept of “social licence” rather than spending the money directly on animal welfare instead simply isn’t supported by real-world experience.

    Instead, these experiences support the actions of thoroughbred authorities over the abstract concepts being pushed by the elites.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am
      Jeff said | November 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

      The concept of a ‘social license’ is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by a small group of tertiary educated ‘experts’ wanting to IMPOSE their views and values, rather than community views, on those they judge to be of lower community standing, or who are involved industries or sports they disprove of.

      Whats worse is so many want to put themselves in positions where they have not only the ability to enforce their will, but also to ‘clip the ticket’ as well.

      They often agree that the activity can continue, but only as long as people from their profession are placed in highly paid oversight positions.

      When they say “animal welfare first”, the joke is that human beings are animals, and putting their welfare first fits the joke being played on, and paid for by the industry or sport.

      • November 23rd 2017 @ 11:50am
        not so super said | November 23rd 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        what is wrong with being tertiary educated?

    • Roar Rookie

      November 23rd 2017 @ 4:06pm
      Scott Russell said | November 23rd 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

      You forgot the chart showing Greyhound deaths. While increased GAP adoptions are a good outcome, the only reason GAP has to exist in the first place is because of an industry churning out ‘surplus’ dogs.

      • November 24th 2017 @ 10:33am
        Nick said | November 24th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

        When the Anti groups provide charts that show the positives of the industry, jobs, economic benefits, than this author can add the charts you want to see. Until than, why should one group need to show a more balance view than the other?

    • November 28th 2017 @ 5:56am
      Fred Barton said | November 28th 2017 @ 5:56am | ! Report

      Those graphs could also be explained by the rising public awareness of the cruelty of greyhound racing after the live baiting scandal and the shrinking popularity of greyhound racing. When you perform an analysis you must take into account all of the relevant vectors, not just the ones that conform to you prejudice.

      I am a Board member of GREY2K USA Worldwide, an organization that fights to save these marvelous creatures all over the globe. (you can learn more about us here: I have fostered and adopted rescued racing greyhounds since 1995. I cannot imagine abandoning any of them when they become injured, old or sick and yet this is routinely what happens to them at operating tracks and will continue to happen as long as racing is allowed to exist.
      Fred Barton
      Board Member
      GREY2K USA Worldwide

      • November 28th 2017 @ 4:06pm
        Nick said | November 28th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

        I find your comment interesting about the decline in popularity. You do realise that greyhound racing betting is increasing and has the highest popularity amongst the younger people in society. The increase is a trend not seen across all codes.

        As for your comment about analysis, when you and your group do it than you can point the finger at other people.

        I also know people who had fostered dogs and adopted them prior to 1995 and I don’t see them trying to brag about it.

        BTW did you see what happens in Australian when you take on greyhound racing? Premier and deputy premier gone and a safe seat lost. Must be more popular than you think.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 2:19am
          Fred Barton said | November 29th 2017 @ 2:19am | ! Report

          It’s not surprising that you would focus on profit over welfare. That’s what got you in trouble in the first place. And anyway profiting through the exploitation of innocent living creatures is not something to brag about. Didn’t Australia have over 100 tracks at one time and now what? 65 or so. Long term doen’t look good for you.

          • November 29th 2017 @ 7:04am
            Nick said | November 29th 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

            Your making stuff up again, show me where I said profit? The fact you try and spin stuff shows you are losing the battle.

            Your point was greyhound racing is not popular, my point was it is, turnover and betting on greyhounds is at its most popular. The day and age of people attending sporting events is long gone with TV. Sporting authorities bend over backwards for the best and biggest TV dollars they can get.

            As for tracks closing, it’s a pointless argument. What’s the difference between 100 tracks racing 1 day a year and 1 track racing 100 times a year? (There is actually more TAB race meetings now than 20 years ago). The AFL used to have lots of grounds, now teams in Melbourne play in just two stadiums (besides Geelong). If we use that in your argument, you would say AFL is not popular, based on grounds been closed.

            Are you closing Zoo’s, Circus, pet shops, banning pet ownership. All of those industries make money from animals? Not to mention farming.

            I couldn’t care less if you hate the industry, it gives you a hobby, but I do find it funny that people pick and chose what they class as “exploitation”.

            Some call farming exploitation cause they are against eating meat, yet some don’t because they love eating meat, but call other animal industries out for exploitation for profit. All industries are there to make a profit, animal based and not (besides not for profit businesses)

            Exploitation is a poor argument.

            • November 29th 2017 @ 7:41am
              Fred Barton said | November 29th 2017 @ 7:41am | ! Report

              Are you going to seriously argue that those involved in greyhound racing aren’t in it for profit? Really? I’m going to assume you hadn’t had your morning coffee yet and just weren’t thinking straight.

              And as for exploitation–you take advantage of greyhound’s love of running, put them in an artificial (and dangerous) situation and make them run for money. Then you get rid of them if they don’t run fast enough. Dude. That’s the very definition of exploitation.

              As for your (typical) attempt to change the subject and imply that every other form of exploitation must be dealt with before we come to greyhound racing, well, I’ve heard that argument before and it’s used by those without a strong response. Yes there are other forms of exploitation in the world, but we’re not talking abut them now. Maybe you should reread the article. We’re talking about your exploitation of greyhounds

              • November 29th 2017 @ 10:17am
                Nick said | November 29th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

                Making stuff up again and trying to spin everything again.

                Sad when people need to do that. There are some good debates on this site and I have had some, but never did anyone try and spin and make stuff up like you have, but hey if you need to do that than……

    • Roar Guru

      November 28th 2017 @ 2:35pm
      Nathan Absalom said | November 28th 2017 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

      No, you’re flat out wrong.

      GRV invested both on education and rehoming before and after the live baiting scandal. The rise in greyhound adoptions in Victoria was already obvious in 2013 before the live baiting scandal and cannot be attributed to it, the data here is clear. Both NSW and Victoria had the live baiting scandals, yet had different outcomes with respect to rehoming. While your statement “you must take into account all of the relevant vectors” might sound meaningful, the whole point of comparing NSW to Victoria is that any “relevant vector” that is common to both states is not the cause of any of the differences between the States.

      If you were to argue the scandal caused a reduction in breeding, that’s fine, I think it’s more complicated than that but the data don’t disagree because the two states had the same outcome after the scandal. But then, I never argued otherwise.

      Yet you’re arguing that the differences between states can be explained by a factor common to both. That is anti-intellectual nonsense and obviously wrong, any cursory analysis of the data would reject your hypothesis. In other words I have “taken into account the relevant vectors” and rejected them because that is what the data clearly shows.

      Do not expect another reply from me. If you want to argue in good faith, fine, but you’re not.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 2:13am
        Fred Barton said | November 29th 2017 @ 2:13am | ! Report

        “…[T] he whole point of comparing NSW to Victoria is that any “relevant vector” that is common to both states is not the cause of any of the differences between the States.”

        That’s my point. You accuse me of looking only at certain vectors, but you do the same in attributing the difference to a single policy.

    • Roar Guru

      November 29th 2017 @ 9:30am
      Nathan Absalom said | November 29th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      No, that wasn’t your original point and the new point that you’re making is wrong anyway. Adoption programs require finance, money for facilities, food, promotions and staff. When one group adopts out say 1500 greyhounds and another group only has the capacity (in terms of kennels, staff etc) to adopt out say 800 greyhounds then the finance is the root cause. Arguing instead that some unspecified, magical “certain vector” might be the cause is dishonest, complete claptrap, a (typical) attempt to change the subject one might say.

      But perhaps the most important point is that your group made predictions in 2015, as did I. Here is what your group said:
      “dogs are going to be in excess – there won’t be enough homes for them at the end of the day – so in no way is dog racing ever good for dogs.”

      Here is what I said:
      “If you want better animal welfare outcomes, spend the damn money on the dog; it’s not rocket science.
      The money is available through what is punted through the TAB and siphoned off by the Government. It should instead go into a fund that is administered by people who genuinely care about the racing animals and as an incentive to change the culture within the sport for the better.”

      What we see in Victoria is they spent the money and got the outcomes that I said were difficult but possible, and your organisation said couldn’t happen. In NSW, where they did what you said, the outcomes were far worse. The cold hard truth is that you, and your organisation, were peddling (to be polite) half-truths and misinformation to direct money away from the greyhounds themselves, actions that led to your predictions being wrong and adverse consequences to a great many greyhounds. At this point in time, shifting the blame onto “certain vectors” is appalling, a sad indictment of your organisations inability to critically analyze their actions and the dangers of moral posturing over thoughtful analysis and considered action.

      You have earned the right to be ignored.

    • November 30th 2017 @ 12:41am
      Fred Barton said | November 30th 2017 @ 12:41am | ! Report

      Interesting that you think money will solve all your problems when it’s money that is causing them. Any institution based on commdifiying innocent living creatures for profit is always going to put the welfare of those commodities after the quest for profit. One of your own trainers, Nick Arena, said exactly that in a chat room: “The solutions are obvious – stop pretending a greyhound’s welfare is above that of a participant…”

      • November 30th 2017 @ 8:33am
        Nick said | November 30th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        Funny that it is only commodifying when it suits your agenda. I just hope you aren’t eating a poor little commodified lamb for dinner.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 9:25am
          Fred Barton said | November 30th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

          Try to keep up Nick. We’ve already talked already talked about that.

          • November 30th 2017 @ 11:08am
            Nick said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

            Same can be said about most of what you post.

            The fact in life you can put forth a case for and against anything.

            The fact you don’t like greyhound racing is fine by me. You have a different opinion to me, that is ok.

            When you point a finger at someone always remember there are three pointed back at you.

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