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Blog - GBGB Managing Director Mark Bird - My first week

This is my first week taking over as the Managing Director for GBGB, so where to start?

I see an industry which many might say is currently pulling itself apart over media rights and in addition not enough greyhounds to meet new racing fixtures versus too many retired dogs clogging up kennelling space both at the Greyhound Trust and, more worryingly, in Trainers kennels. Welfare groups and those opposed to greyhound racing are eagerly awaiting data on track injuries and retirement statistics, no doubt with the latter hoping to further lobby the government for a ban on greyhound racing.

Changes in kennelling standards are causing concern amongst all trainers together with a lack of new owners helping to fund the sport.

Funding by the bookmakers has all but halved over the years and now there is obviously less money to finance an ever-increasing workload. Add to this, that GBGB, as a regulator are seemingly being investigated by the police for corrupt and improper practices. It makes me wonder why I ever decided to take up this position, this ‘opportunity’ to take things forward??

There is a huge amount of work to be done and some of this is very much time critical to the future advancement of the sport.

In terms of media rights, I recently met with the CEO of SIS and shared with him my view regarding a perceived lack of greyhounds to meet their ambitions for their fixtures list, together with my concerns with dogs being raced too often to meet their race card. I have been assured that SIS will ensure through their contracts with tracks, that integrity and welfare obligations will be met and will provide a high-quality service to the bookmakers.

The issues about retired greyhounds are an ongoing problem but I have again, already had meetings and further scheduled to discuss this matter with the Greyhound Trust and other welfare charities. I acknowledge that something must happen in the immediate future to ensure that, as much as getting greyhounds registered and into the sport, the bigger problem is getting them rehomed at the end of their racing career. I clearly need to be a part of seeking that solution for retiring greyhounds.

Injury and retirement data will be published early next year, but one of my priorities, with the support of the Board, will be to help progress the GBGB Welfare Strategy into tangible reduction plans and targets for euthanasia rates over the next 3-5 years.

With the news that Ladbroke/ Corals will pay the voluntary levy from 2018, it means that more money may well be available for welfare projects such as the new kennelling standards and retiring greyhounds. Whilst this is good news, the industry sincerely hopes that other bookmakers will follow suit and pay, even recognising that they have their own ongoing uncertainties regarding FOBT’s. The levy represents a small proportion of the monies made by bookmakers from greyhound racing, but the impact that can be made from the payment of the levy towards the welfare and integrity of the sport, ensures that the sport remains an attractive product for bookmakers.

BAGS have announced last week that there will be no money for SKY schedules for greyhound racing in 2018. Any televised greyhound racing is always good and SKY has certainly been a flag-ship ambassador in the past for the licensed sport. GBGB is committed to promoting the SKY schedules and if there is any way in which we can develop this, then we will be prepared to respond accordingly.

As for the police investigation in to corrupt and improper practices, it has never been stated by the police that their investigation has been against the GBGB, nor have we heard anything since last December when they visited the GBGB offices. If there is subsequently anything arising from out of that investigation then we will clearly abide by that and will obviously work with the police in the meantime.

Over the next 6 months I intend to visit all the licensed GBGB tracks, announcing when I will be going in the hope that I can listen and talk with owners, trainers and stadium staff and in some cases hopefully with the GBGB Owners representative Paul Ephremsen or Trainers representative Peter Harnden in tow. As per my previous role, I will also continue to visit Trainers at their kennels as part of that engagement.

Again, as a priority, I will work with the GBGB Board to develop a 3-5 year strategy and vision to outline to people what it is we do and as importantly, how we do it and thereby whether we are meeting our obligations to stakeholders. I want GBGB to be more open and communicative and genuinely want more people who have a vested interest in the sport to become more involved in taking licensed greyhound racing forward. Language can be emotive but, as a start, if we can move away from people, at all levels referring to greyhound racing as a ‘dying sport’ or ‘diminishing industry’ then there is a real chance of some optimism looking ahead.

I am in no doubt as to the task ahead for me as Managing Director. I appreciate that I will be continually tested and no doubt frustrated along the way, but it is my clear ambition to change the way that people perceive the GBGB for the positive and for us to provide clear leadership around welfare and integrity.

As I observed at the beginning of this blog in terms of ‘opportunity’ for my role, I will conclude with, “Nobody ever said it would be easy…”