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Chairman's Awards Message

Good evening my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen. This is the highlight of the year of the UK greyhound racing world. We will be looking back at the achievements and winners of 2017. May I taken a few minutes of your time to review the year.

It was a very pleasurable experience for me to attend the Derby relocated to Towcester. It is an impressive venue of which Lord Hesketh must be very proud. May I pay tribute to Lord Hesketh and his staff for the herculean efforts they put in to develop and deliver the Derby in their first year. It was a great success and we are so pleased that they have agreed to host this prestigious event again in 2018.

The year, however, has been tinged with sadness in that we saw the closure of Wimbledon stadium which saw its doors close after 89 years of racing. All the greyhound world, and indeed the sports world generally, have mourned and lamented the loss of this track. We also lost Hall Green which closed after 90 years of racing and Mildenhall too after almost three decades of operation. But these closures should not in any way be regarded as a sign of a decline in greyhound racing in this country.

There is a lot happening and from my vantage point as Chairman of the Board I see opportunities arising which I believe will result in the enhancement of this sport. We have to remember that in sport generally times are a changing and in the current environment one cannot rest on one’s laurels. All sports have to adapt to changing circumstances and needs. The Board is determined to achieve its objectives of making greyhound racing a pleasurable and rewarding experience for so many people who enjoy it as a competitive and exciting event. It has traditions and a pedigree which compare favourably with any sport in this country.

This year also saw my predecessor, Tom Kelly, standing down in May and the Board and I are extremely grateful to him for the commitment he showed to greyhound racing. In particular, his determination to obtain a proportionate return from those other interests, namely gambling and the media whose financial contribution is needed to ensure the wellbeing of this sport through ethical and responsible funding.

We also saw the retirement of our then Chief Executive, Barry Faulkner, in November after (as Barry would say) six long years at the helm. Barry put together a robust and formidable team at GBGB, and to use a nautical expression, sailed through troubled waters with ease. His legacy as a regulator is the maintenance of a world-envied reputation for honesty and integrity, something which some other sports have in recent years not maintained. Those that criticise greyhound racing should reflect on that fact.

Mark Bird has now taken up his position as Managing Director for GBGB. He retains his other position as Director of Regulation. We have certainly got value for our money in marrying those two positions. It again reflects a strategy aimed at taking greyhound racing forward in an efficient, professional and disciplined way.  I am confident that under his leadership greyhound racing in this country will thrive and that the industry will receive adequate funding to enable it to achieve its true potential as great sporting entertainment.

This year we also saw the appointment of two new directors, Peter Harnden, representing trainers and Paul Ephremsen on behalf of the owners. Both have made a special contribution to the Board and understand the importance of carrying out their Board duties in such a way as to balance the interests of those they represent and the interests of the Board as a whole. In greyhound racing that is not an easy balance to maintain. But as Chairman I am determined to make sure we get that right. Although Paul, sadly, has decided to stand down from the Board for personal reasons and because of his commitments elsewhere, he has expressed a desire to be used as a sounding board from time to time. I understand his reasons for stepping aside and am grateful for his continued support.

Clive Feltham and John Curran have, after many years’ service, decided that it is time for others to be given the opportunity to serve in that way. I am very grateful to both for the support they have given me in different ways since I was made Chairman and I know that Tom Kelly too benefitted from their wise counsel. Clive in a modest and quiet way gave me much needed advice and wisdom. He too has expressed his willingness to act as an informal consultee and I will certainly take advantage of that. As for John, like Cicero in ancient times, he has a taste for argument which is testing yet highly conducive to the proper debate of issues. I have enjoyed sparring with him as much as I do with opponents in court. Thank you John for all you have brought to greyhound racing and may you continue to make that contribution.

I would like to return to the comments I made earlier about Tom Kelly’s efforts in attempting to secure a financial return for greyhound racing that will enable the industry to fulfil its obligations to the welfare and integrity of licenced and retiring greyhounds. This is probably the most important issue currently facing greyhound racing and is yet to be resolved. I am convinced that it can be and has to be if the industry is to remain viable.

In that regard the Board is extremely grateful for the efforts of Lord Lipsey in conducting mediations between GBGB and the bookmakers. I also applaud the announcement back in August last year of Ladbroke Coral that they would make a significant contribution to the Greyhound Fund from their offshore streaming profits. I call upon all bookmakers to make that same commitment so that the GBGB can further enhance greyhound racing as a whole in such a way as to enable all our sporting and welfare objectives to be achieved.

Finally I would like to thank all the sponsors that are here tonight for your continued support for the sport and industry. I wish all the nominations the very best of luck and I hope you have a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening.

 

Robert Griffiths QC