The Strategic Plan 2018- 2022 for the Irish Greyhound sector allows for ‘a new beginning’ according to the Chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board Phil Meaney.
The Plan was published yesterday alongside a new report by Economist Jim Power also launched, highlights the industry’s contribution to economic activity, particularly in rural Ireland, with spending of over €300 million nationally.
The Strategic Plan lists seven key pillars to focus on over the next five years
- Development and support of greyhound owning, breeding and training
- Promotion of a racing-centric and betting model for the industry
- Improved customer experience and increased attendance
- Ensuring the highest standards of integrity and regulation
- Enhancing animal welfare
- Developing people and creating an organisational structure that matches the needs of the industry
- Maximising use of communications and information technology
The five-year plan proposes a capital development programme totalling €12 million which includes a €3 million upgrade of Ireland’s premier greyhound stadium, Shelbourne Park, as reported on Sport for Business last week.
The report recognises however that all investments over the five year period are contingent on financial resources being available.
The investment plan will also require Government approval before any surplus from the Harold’s Cross sale (€23 million) can be used, and the semi-state company will have to adhere to a strict public spending code and capital investment appraisal process for all projects.
“The Strategic Plan coincides with a dramatically improved financial position,” said Chairman Phil Meaney.
“For the past seven years, managing a long-term debt of some €20 million acted as a financial strait-jacket on our industry. The sale of Harold’s Cross, now in its final stages of completion, will clear this debt and allows the industry to start afresh.”
A dramatic fall in attendance in 2017 is down more to the closure of Shelbourne Park in the early part of the year following protests by sectors in the industry over the sale of Harolds Cross Stadium.
A return from a low of 514,000 attendance to the more regular benchmark from the three previous years of 635,000 should be attainable and gives an indication of the underlying and enduring appeal of the sport.
The plan goes into substantial detail with actions and measurable indicators of success over the duration of the plan. Among the more innovative proposals include an investigation of central contracts for trainers at particular venues, promotion of syndicate ownership and even a trial of racing with eight as opposed to six greyhounds to increase the number of betting options at tracks and for international pool betting.
Marketing, sponsorship and communication all have areas of the plan dedicated to how they can be developed and improved and there is a strong dose of common sense throughout.
The plan is primarily in the mould of CEO Gerard Dollard who joined in 2017 from his previous role as Deputy Chief Executive of Clare County Council.
In addition to the commercial side, there is a strong emphasis on welfare and integrity.
“While the financial plan may change, our commitment to integrity and welfare will not,” said Dollard.
“In our industry, from every kennel to every racing track, the greyhound comes first. And we will continue to clearly demonstrate our welfare commitment through actions, not just words.”
“Our regulatory position will be strengthened once the proposed Greyhound Industry Bill is enacted. This legislation will allow a clearer legal framework to ensure integrity and the IGB have proposed a new traceability measure so we can account for every greyhound in our industry.”
“Our Welfare Officers have the legal authority to inspect kennels, issue fines and initiate prosecutions, in some cases with the cooperation of the Gardai.”
“All welfare reports are fully investigated and the IGB have secured several prosecutions. From 5294 samples taken from greyhounds at race tracks, private kennels and sales meetings in 2017, there were 29 adverse findings for prohibited substances. Every adverse finding and every subsequent fine or sanction is published on our website for all to see.”
“Three individuals have been banned for doping or welfare offences. These individuals are disqualified from owning, training or managing a racing greyhound. The conversation around welfare has been dominated for too long by animal rights activists who are opposed to the use of animals for all sports or entertainment purposes.”
The sport then is fighting on a number of fronts, to increase its appeal to racegoers in the field of entertainment and to counter the threat from animal activists. It’s a complex path to tread successfully but this new plan does give a blueprint for how it can be done.
Image Credit: Cheltenham Racecourse