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Irish greyhound racing has a doping problem

Irish Council Against Blood Sports ICABS
Ireland, Ireland

Mar 7, 2019 — 

Greyhound racing has a doping problem, says broadcaster
The Times Ireland, February 28 2019
by Aaron Rogan, Senior Ireland Reporter

The company that broadcasts Irish greyhound racing to betting shops around the world has told the sport’s governing body that it has a serious integrity problem because of doping and irregular betting patterns.

Sports Information Services (SIS) raised its concerns at a meeting with the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) in October at which a representative of the company gave a damning assessment of the sport in Ireland.

“The main issues with Irish greyhound racing are high-profile integrity issues such as positive tests and betting incidents, which serve to undermine turnover at Irish tracks,” an SIS representative said. “The key challenge in selling Irish greyhound racing is a consumer lack of confidence.”

SIS buys licensing rights to sports and sells them to the betting industry. The criticisms of Irish dog racing, which receives state funding, were made at a meeting to discuss the establishment of early morning meetings at tracks in Kilkenny and Waterford. The races, the first of which is at 8.18am, began as a trial in December, and they are broadcast to bookmakers globally.

Redacted minutes of the meeting released to The Times showed that Frank Nyhan, chairman of the IGB, said that the board was barely breaking even from its deal with SIS and would not be able to provide more races unless the terms improved.

An SIS representative, whose name was redacted, said that the sport was struggling because gamblers and journalists did not trust it.

The SIS employee raised the issues of doping, irregular betting and the availability of private trials at which owners were given access to racetracks to run dogs without the result being made public or put on the racecard. This allowed owners and trainers to enter dogs into races without their recent form being available to bookmakers or punters. This is not the case in England, where all official trials on racetracks are recorded on the racecard when the dog is entered into a race.

There is concern in the bookmaking industry that such private trials allow for big bets to be organised with insider knowledge and has made most major bookmakers stop taking large bets on Irish races.

The minutes of October’s meeting show that the SIS employee was responding to Mr Nyhan’s complaint about the terms of the SIS deal. The employee “emphasised the elements of integrity embedded in the product, namely the ongoing issue with private trials, positive tests and betting incidents, which affect journalists’ perception of Irish greyhound racing and therefore consumer confidence and behaviour which will take time to resolve”.

SIS said that the lack of confidence in Irish racing made it less attractive in the UK and unless that confidence was improved the number of Irish races broadcast would not increase.

The IGB is a semi-state body and has received more than €100 million from the tax payer in the past decade at a time when it has faced criticism over its corporate governance, doping controls and animal welfare sanctions. It will receive €16.8 million this year after the government agreed to an €800,000 increase.

The average attendence at races in 2014 was 371 and the sport has struggled to attract people to stadiums in recent years, which has led to declining finances at the IGB. It has appointed consultants to examine the financial sustainability of its 16 stadiums and a report is due later this year.

A controversy erupted last year when The Times reported that the €23 million paid by the Department of Education for a former track at Harold’s Cross, Dublin, was more than twice the value of between €6 and €12 million given by consultants acting for the IGB. At the time IGB, otherwise known as Bord na gCon, had debts of more than €21 million and the money provided by the department exceeded this amount. There have also been concerns about the failure of the IGB to inform the Department of Agriculture immediately after it became aware that a prized greyhound had tested positive for cocaine in 2017. The department’s investigations unit was not informed until days after the test, which reduced the ability of investigators to conduct an unannounced search.

A spokesman for the IGB told The Times that it spent approximately €2 million on regulation and welfare last year. He said that the Greyhound Industry Bill, which is at committee stage in the Dáil, would improve the regulation of the sport.

“This legislative framework, when passed, will allow the IGB to maintain the regulatory initiatives already in place, as mentioned, as well as implementing further progressive measures to allay any public concerns that may exist on industry regulation.”

A spokesman for SIS said: “We are confident that all the tracks on the SIS greyhound service comply with our strict integrity standards to provide a robust and fair betting product.”

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