“We are in the best position we’ve been in in years, in terms of money and the track surface, and now it’s all falling down around us.”
These are the distressed words of Young and District Greyhound Racing Club committee member Vicki Prest, who will head to Sydney next week to voice her concerns about Greyhound Racing NSW’s (GRNSW) Inter-Code Agreement (ICA).
The NSW Greyhound Action Group (GAG) sought the inquiry to combat the alleged mismanagement of the sport by GRNSW and review the ICA that dictates prize-money distribution between thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing codes.
Proposed revisions to the agreement could bring an end to greyhound racing clubs across the state.
The current ICA sees country greyhound clubs in NSW earn 20 per cent of TAB wagering revenue. Of this, only 13 per cent is given back to clubs to fund meetings, prize money and development. Young’s 50-year-old club is already under pressure, but changes to the 99-year agreement could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Over the last 10 years it has benefitted the thoroughbreds and harness racing by $150 million, at the expense of the greyhounds,” Vicki said, adding that Young’s funding has been cut short by about $25,000 this year alone.
And the cuts keeping getting bigger, year upon year.
The Young and District club has already been forced to stop unplaced prize money – a guaranteed $10 prize for every owner who kennelled their dog at a meeting – to help fund other meetings throughout the year. On top of this belt-tightening, GRNSW abandoned the annual Country Challenge when $175,000 in funding for the event was lost two years ago.
This is a long way from the Club’s heyday, when meetings were held up to 40 times a year, offering prize money and drawing competition from all over the region.
“They’ve stopped heaps of meetings,” Vicki said. “Heaps.”
Today, Young’s 45 greyhound trainers meet and compete half as often as they did forty years ago.
Due to a lack of funding, GRNSW is now only viable for another five years. All country clubs, including Young and District, have been placed on a two-year contract that will leave the club’s future in question until June next year.
And worse yet, according to Young District Committee member Pam Grant, the state government is pushing the closure of country clubs on the sly.
“The [GRNSW] board was told by the Minister for Sport and Recreation that they weren’t going to shut country tracks” she said. “So instead they’ve gone in the back door and are sucking us dry.”
And it is for that reason that Vicki, accompanied by committee members Pam Grant and June Gibson, will make their third and final trip – this time to the Parliament House in Sydney on Thursday – to be the voice for country greyhound clubs all over NSW.
Having made their presence known at an inquiry at Penrith in November, Vicki and Pam will voice their concerns about the direction the industry is going at a second inquiry at Newcastle on Wednesday, and then at the deciding inquiry at Sydney on Thursday.
“No one was ever allowed to see the Inter-Code Agreement, so we’re hoping to find some answers,” Vicki said. “If we don’t, that’s the end of it.”
Vicki and Pam will deliver their speeches to representatives of the Shooters and Fishers, Liberal, Labour, Nationals and Greens parties, hoping to influence a change to the ICA that will secure the funds country clubs need to continue operating.
“We hope to achieve the Inter-Code Agreement being changed,” Vicki said. “We hope to achieve government assistance, and we hope they realise the importance of country clubs in country communities.
“The Shooters and Fishers Party are hoping to get it sorted as soon as possible. They hold the balance of power – they’ve really helped us out.”
And why is funding to country clubs being cut?
“They don’t want us because we don’t earn money for them,” Pam said.
“But in the big scheme of things, we cost them very little.”
Unlike many larger clubs that operate TAB meetings, Young and neighbouring clubs at Lithgow, Cowra, Temora and Mudgee don’t offer the service and don’t make as much money as the bigger clubs.
“They’re looking at what’s not bringing in the big dollars and cutting them first – in this case, it’s the country clubs,” Vicki said.
“They aren’t greyhound people running the show – the board before had greyhound people on it and they saw the value in the country.”
Living in hope of a change to the ICA next week that will guarantee the future of all non-TAB clubs, local greyhound owners, trainers, breeders and volunteers have been left in the dark.
“It’s having a big impact on greyhound breeding,” Vicki said. “It’s affected prize money, put terrible stress on us trying to manage our club, and it’s impacted the dogs because they can’t get races.”
If change doesn’t come, Pam worries for the future of greyhound racing.
“We are hoping by June we get some answers,” she said. “We are the grass roots of greyhound racing – if the roots die, the top will fall over.”