For over a hundred years, working class Australians have been passionate about greyhound racing, a sport typically involving the luring of the animals around a track by mechanical tin hares. Traditionally popular with lower-income earners due to its affordable admission charges and allowance of multiple small bets, around $4 billion was punted on the tracks and at the bookies in 2015, with more than 300,000 dogs on the circuits nation-wide.
Yet the Australian greyhound racing industry received a blow earlier this month, with Premier Mike Baird announcing the sport’s banning in NSW, to be enforced from July 1, 2017. The decision followed the airing of ABC’s Four Corners documentary in February last year, which exposed illegal live baiting practices and corruption rife within the NSW greyhound industry. A Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW followed, which concluded the industry had “fundamental animal welfare issues, integrity and governance failings that cannot be remedied”. One major and concerning finding was that of ‘wastage’ – i.e. the euthanasia of racing dogs deemed uncompetitive. Evidence found that in the last 12 years, at least half of all greyhounds bred to race in NSW – a number which sits between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs – were killed for this reason.
The inquiry advised that due to the poor findings, industry reform was unlikely to be either successful or adequately maintained. Understanding the sustainability of the industry to be dependent upon the large-scale wastage of greyhounds, the commission lacked confidence in its ability to stick to required ethical reforms – particularly if such reforms would mean a decline in the success of the NSW greyhound racing industry as a whole.
The question now is whether the ban will spread to other states, and eventually become outlawed Australia-wide. Currently, the ACT looks like it needs minimal convincing, and there is pressure from the RSPCA for Tasmania to follow suit. Should this occur, the implications of a move to dispose of a whole sport would be numerous and far-reaching. For NSW alone, the greyhound racing ban could mean damage to the local economy, with trainers out of work, and tracks and racing venues potentially looking at closure due to a dip in funds. These venues and tracks will require repurposing work, and must negotiate with other organisations and bodies for alternative commercial use. It will also mean an excess of greyhounds needing new homes and/or facing euthanasia.
Additionally, there is a strong possibility that this arguably short-term strategy to address the greyhound industry’s shortcomings could backfire. For one, there is the possibility of the sport going underground, with illegal and completely unregulated racing arenas springing up. Moreover, should the ban fail to be taken up nationally, there is nothing stopping trainers from simply moving interstate to continue their substandard racing practices. The unethical behaviours that NSW failed to regulate would subsequently just move elsewhere, rather than be quashed outright at their source.
Western Australia has been investigated and cleared as having a transparent and well-regulated greyhound racing body. As such, it has much to lose from the spread of abhorrent practices in the industry from interstate migrants. In fact, whilst the NSW greyhound racing industry has been thoroughly admonished these last few weeks for poor governance and regulation, the WA industry has been benchmarked as significantly different to that of NSW’s. Greyhounds WA Chief Executive, David Hobbs, stated on 6PR earlier in the month that WA’s industry is far more tightly controlled, with greater breeding regulations and cameras on the racetracks to help flush out rule-breakers and live baiting. Hobbs claimed that “animal welfare is at the forefront of everything that has been done” in the establishment of WA’s current ‘clean’ greyhound racing industry.
But whilst WA’s greyhound races may be well-regulated and controlled events in comparison, questions remain over the welfare of the animals in the industry as a whole. Hobbs admits that around 500 dogs in WA have currently been bred to race in the greyhound industry. Many of these dogs will be retired early, replaced by more competitive greyhounds that will win more money for the trainer. The retired dogs must then be rehomed or adopted; but – although greyhounds are extremely gentle dogs by nature, and typically transition easily into pet life – their training can sometimes make them undesirable, and subsequent adoption difficult. The main difficulties surrounding adoption are logistical. Rosslyn Uren of Greyhound Adoptions WA apprised that the organisation has a consistent 60 dogs on the wait list for adoption at any time. When asked for her opinion on how other states might go about bettering the state of their greyhound racing industries, Uren replied “there is no answer to how to better an industry that uses an animal for financial gain, encourages the social disease of gambling and discards the animal when it is no longer profitable”. The WA Greens voiced a similar view, stating that “The report has confirmed what we have been saying about the Greyhound Industry all along – the industry is built around cruelty and should not be allowed to operate”.
This perspective has been supported by real action in the US, where greyhound racing is currently illegal in forty states. Comparatively, Australia is one of a minority of eight countries worldwide continuing to allow the sport. This is despite growing concerns about the welfare of the animals involved in the industry. By enabling even ‘clean’ greyhound racing to continue in Australia, are we turning our backs on animal welfare? When these animals are bred solely to race, and stretched beyond their physical limits to win? The issue extends into other competitive animal-based industries too – with horse-racing (which sees horses every Melbourne Cup maimed, collapsing in their stalls, and/or shot) being the most prominent, as the standard bourgeois form of racing entertainment.
When provided with good odds and a pocket of cash, we are less concerned with the uncomfortable truth that animal racing is just a lucrative kind of animal cruelty. Whilst hundreds of greyhounds are killed in training and disposed of like objects when no longer ‘commercially viable’, we are currently choosing to live in ignorance of the violation of animal welfare. Surely, as we give increasing attention to issues of human injustice, we can find moral reason to fly the flag for animals and their rights too?
Words by Maddison Howard