Betting scandal is merely tip of sport’s shambolic iceberg
- BY:PATRICK SMITH
- From:The Australian
- August 17, 2012 12:00AM
TYPICALLY you might start this with the old reliable “if it wasn’t so serious you would laugh”. Except it is serious and they are laughing.
Victorian racing’s reputation for integrity is not leaking credibility but gushing it.
The industry had never really regained its equilibrium following a lengthy inquiry by Racing Victoria into a series of rides by Danny Nikolic in late 2010 and early 2011. Nikolic was charged but found not guilty. But it opened the general public’s eyes to what might happen in racing, if not in that particular case.
Nikolic is at the centre of an investigation, following police interest in a race at Cranbourne last year. Nikolic won the race on Smoking Aces and inquiries into that race have spread to other jockeys, both famous and battling, and other races.
A report in The Australian yesterday said allegations that riders were paid to fix races and another laid his ride to lose was knee-slapping fodder in the jockeys’ room. If it wasn’t so …
Equally harmful is to learn how impotent racing is to supervise its own business. It must shuffle about unable to act because Victoria Police cannot release to Racing Victoria’s stewards its information gained through phone taps. It is also galling for Victorian administrators because they claim police refused a request for phone taps during their unsuccessful investigation and prosecution of Nikolic and others two years ago.
Yesterday was one of embarrassment for Victorian racing. The Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna announced a public inquiry into reports and rumour of race fixing and overall integrity across all three codes – gallops, harness racing and greyhounds. The idea, apparently, for the inquiry that ends on September 14 is that the public supplies details of impropriety confidentially. That should break the whole thing wide open.
To underline the impotence of racing to mind its own house, Perna admitted he could not make people contribute to his inquiry. Nor was he able to use any information the police had gathered during their investigation. This inquiry into concerns of systemic race fixing is nothing but a device to plug the hole that is draining the wagering sports of consumer confidence.
The Victorian Racing Minister, Denis Napthine, was no help when he addressed the issue yesterday afternoon. He supported Perna’s inquiry – as if he had any option – but gave no indication that he would work immediately to strengthen racing’s investigative powers. Racing Victoria’s chief executive, Rob Hines, said that his administration was taking legal advice to establish if there was some way to suspend licences while police carried out independent investigations.
There is no doubt that racing, already a shrinking player in the betting and gaming business, is losing punters as the race-fixing allegations spread. People simply will not bet on a sport that they have little faith is run and won on merit. Neither will be they drawn to racing as owners if they feel racing is crooked. And it only takes one race to do that.
This is not the fault of Racing Victoria alone. It has a dogged chief steward in Terry Bailey and he runs an efficient, diligent integrity unit. But they cannot operate outside their limited powers.
Napthine is happy to spend money on a shed to protect hurdles and steeples at Warrnambool and deliver millions to the irksome, dying and unpopular sport of jumps racing, while education programs are cut back. So his judgment can be genuinely questioned.
However, he must insist that racing is armed with sufficient powers to protect, police and punish those in the industry and outside its rails who seek to hurt it by fixing races.
The stewards must be given the power to investigate and punish anyone who cheats. They must be given access to evidence gathered by police during investigations so that they can act quickly and decisively to limit the damage to the sport and business of racing.
Racing was once a grand sport that demanded page after prominent page in newspapers. On Saturday night television, entertainment shows were built around trotting broadcasts. Now it only breaks into the consciousness of the general community during the spring. Black Caviar interested people only and did not convert. While wagering revenue increases it loses ground by the day to sports betting and online gambling.
And racing suffers too from a stubborn and stupid decision to continue with jumps racing when poll after poll show the general public abhors the sport. It sat about as jockeys went on strike for the right to beat horses more than new rules allowed. Now a growing sense that race fixing might flourish. Talk about laugh …