In My Opinion... By David Bradford
Would some kindly benefactor please install some mirrors in the Racing Board’s headquarters at Jackson Street, Petone, so that those who stalk the corridors of power can ask themselves what they’re doing there?
Most industry stakeholders haven’t the foggiest idea and both the major political parties admitted to head-scratching in their published election policies. As for me? I’m one of the head-scratchers.
Pre-election National made a promise for good governance and to ensure the Racing Board carries out a comprehensive review of all internal costs. Seeing as the Racing Board is a statutory body with a minister assigned to monitor management, National, as the incumbent government, could hardly have called for less.
However, it’s not the less, but the need for more, that worries me. Without exception racing people I have discussed Racing Board performance with are agreed the politicians should be placing the management of the industry under much closer scrutiny.
They question the wisdom of the amalgamation of the Racing Industry Board and the TAB under the single umbrella of the Racing Board.
They believe that while synergies do exist, primarily the Racing Board should be about the infrastuctures of thoroughbred and standardbred racing, while the TAB should simply be a gaming body acting as an agency for the two horse-racing codes, greyhounds and sports betting. Dogs, they say, should operate as a separate racing activity.
But that thinking, commonsense as it may sound, immediately takes you down an unwelcome blind alley. For starters the social impact of the entwined gambling activities of racing clubs and the TAB means the government needs to keep a watchful eye on those activities - hence the statutory body thingy.
It also means New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and Harness Racing New Zealand will never achieve absolute self-determination. Mindful of what some may see as withdrawal of a democratic right, successive governments have shied away from meddling too much with the so-called common ground statutory body, the maligned Racing Board.
But clearly the political faith in the Racing Board is misplaced, its record one of failure and not success. The racing natives have become restive. Change is imperative and whether he likes it or not the buck stops with the Minister for Racing.
Now here’s another rub. The poor old minister is immediately in a Catch-22 situation. He appointed the Board on the basis of industry recommendations and now he’s being asked to grab them by the scruff of the neck and kick ’em in the pants.
And if you ask high-profile business entrepreneur Bob Jones, the chances of new faces bringing about new efficiency and better governance is hardly a given.
Writing in the New Zealand Herald in April, Jones said: “Public company boards of directors are required by law, but for all their roles of policy setting and watchdog shareholder protection, history repeatedly shows they are utterly ineffectual. So, too, with many dozens of government boards, which merely supply sinecures for political mates... The reality is that executives run companies and make policy decisions and directors are simply Christmas-tree decorations.”
As a director of both public companies and government bodies Bob Jones can be deemed a voice of experience - just a shame he couldn’t have extended that experience to the present Racing Board. Had he done so he could have been part of unceremoniously giving its million dollar chief executive the humpty-dumpty. Hardly one of the world’s great “what ifs”, but breezy Bob’s likely muted reaction would have been “See what I mean? Nothing smart about shutting a stable door that shouldn’t have been opened in the first place.”
Another Racing Board stable door that should never have been opened is the TAB’s infamous “head-to-head” fixed odds bets where punters can wager on one runner in a race beating a rival irrespective of their finishing position.
Apart from David Walker’s recent illegal participation as a licensed jockey, the whole concept is an open invitation to criminal activity. Yet, it must have been sanctioned by the Racing Board.
That fact on its own makes the mind boggle. But what about the words of the CEO of the Racing Integrity Unit, Mike Godber, following Walker’s disqualification during a National Radio interview with Guyon Espiner.
Espiner: Should you ban betting of this sort completely?
Godber: Not necessarily. Clearly we’ve got it under control. We’re happy and confident with our processes.
Wonder what it’s like at the RIU and the TAB on a bad hair day?