“Shut the whole greyhound racing industry down”, say some. For others: “It’s a small aberrant group doing this, but not us”.
These are just some of the reactions after the ABC Four Corners television program on 16 February 2015. The program revealed that an abhorrent practice of yesteryear, ‘live baiting’ to excite greyhounds to follow the lure, appears alive and well in 2015.
Between these polar opposite perspectives lies the likely terrain Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) (and its equivalent bodies around Australia) must navigate.
As I contend in ‘Court of opinion is not a court a law’, this involves a delicate dance through a legal minefield.
Comments by Richard Hinds and Gerald Whateley in ABC’s Offsiders program (22/2/15) indicate they are frustrated by any delay. The “trees” of the law stand in the way of just doing something, suggests Richard Hinds. The whole industry should be suspended for at least a week whilst people prove they have done the right thing, suggests Gerard Whateley.
Yet could it be that those legal obstacles also provide a proper check against steps taken in the heat of the moment, without proper due diligence first? After all, every action has a reaction.
Let us look at one example this week, namely, GRV’s decision to suspend greyhounds from racing if they were under the care and control of a trainer suspended for live baiting practices. By the end of that week, owners who signed statutory declarations saying they had no idea what was going on found the suspension of their greyhounds lifted.
This was not a great public relations look, acknowledged by the publication of a clarifying statement from GRV Chairman Peter Caillard on Saturday, 21 February 2015:
“This situation is incredibly complex. We are working within the constraints of the law to do what we can to prevent those associated with the live baiting allegations from taking part in the sport any further. Importantly, this latest resolution is founded upon a presumption of innocence on the part of the owners.”
Again and again, we return to the question of ‘proof’. From the Four Corners program, cases against specific dogs for having been trained using live baiting methods appeared circumstantial. The argument goes like this:
- Trainer X has used live baiting, or given his dogs to the care of someone who does so; and
- Champion Greyhound Y must therefore have been subject to live baiting.
Presumably, some of the dogs in the program who chased after live animals will be capable of identification by markings and the like, but to do this will take time.
It might well be the case that live baiting enhances performance, because the adrenaline levels of a dog following a lure are heightened by contrast to, say, a dog trained by wool on a string. Therefore, in addition to the abhorrent practices of live baiting deserving a ‘life ban’ for those involved (or, in fact, a recommended minimum 10 year disqualification period: see 2014 GRV Animal welfare guidelines, page 10), there is the potential performance enhancing effect of the training method itself.
In doping or performance enhancement matters generally, guilt by association alone is unlikely to get you far in a court of law.
Those following the Australian Rules Essendon Football Club supplements saga will know (the subject of significant commentary on this blog), that the AFL Tribunal must prove that particular players took banned substances to be found guilty of a charge. That they played at a particular club, and were treated by particular staff members, at a particular time, is nowhere near sufficient proof.
So too in cycling. One of the sports in the headlights for the last decade for doping violations, one had to prove a cyclist doped before suspending him or her. The Lance Armstrong case is renowned as the advent of circumstantial doping cases. He never returned a positive test, but a circumstantial case based on teammate testimony ultimately brought an end to his career.
In the case of greyhound racing, like in football, cycling, athletics, horse racing, and any other regulated sport, one will likely need to prove to the requisite standard that particular dogs were subject to live baiting treatment.
Some are arguing that the whole sport of greyhound racing must be tainted and brought to an end. The sport of cycling has also been under a cloud for years based on multiple cyclists having a history of positive tests. People have speculated that doping is, or has been, endemic in the sport of cycling. However, absent banning the sport entirely (which is easy to call for but an incredibly harsh decision whatever the sport), one is left with the need for tighter controls, better tests, cultural awareness, and stronger education. Slowly but surely, in cycling at least, this approach seems to be working.
With greyhound racing, one also expects a ‘whole of sport’ approach will be required to clean up its issues. It needs sponsors. And good quality sponsors only want positive associations with the sport they are spending their money to be connected with.
One therefore expects that GRV will pursue particular cases as vigorously as possible. It will collect the evidence. But it will also need to be conscious that broader suspensions, without specific proof, could violate the presumption of innocence, or the right to natural justice, of those affected. That appears to be the realization arrived at by GRV.
In addition to the trainer of a greyhound there is another stakeholder. That is the owner.
Many of us have interests in racehorses. Consider what might happen if a racehorse trainer is suspended from training because of a doping violation he or she has committed. It could well be the result of one of the horses in his or her care returning a positive swab. Does this mean that all other horses in that stable are suspended as well? No they are not.
There is a good reason for this. Each animal is different. Their training regimens differ too. Some horses are nervous, some have muscular problems, some need motivating, some get too worked up, and so on.
In other words, even if a particular trainer might be more open to illicit practices than others (usually based on his or her record with the stewards), few would accept that those illicit practices were likely to be universally applied.
Note also that horses join and leave stables at particular times. Timing can become very important when assessing integrity issues.
Why then, would the position not be the same in relation to greyhounds? It might be the case (noting that I am speculating to develop the point), that Greyhound A never needs any inducement to chase a lure at full strength. However, Greyhound B might lose adrenaline after 5 races of following a mechanical lure and require a ‘touch up’. These judgments could lead to differential treatment of dogs within a kennel. The result? Some dogs may be subject to live baiting, and some may not.
Likewise, if an experienced greyhound joins a new trainer at a later stage of his or her career, this might lead to a completely different training approach than, say, one which has come straight from the breeding barn.
In light of the above, consider the effect on some greyhound owners in the last week of finding out that their dog has been suspended due to ‘guilt by association’.
Some certainly did not appear to take it lying down, as this report via the Sydney Morning Herald reveals. According to the report, Maitland owner Brad Canty claims that the threat of a Supreme Court injunction caused GRV to lift its suspension decision. Mr Canty said:
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m the owner of the dog and why should we get penalised? They want to put a ban on the dog until the inquiry is heard. That could take three, six months. It’s ridiculous.”
In my view though, the point is slightly different. If you are the owner of a horse the subject of a positive test, you are penalized. Any subsequent inquiry might also take time.
In the case of Mr Canty, it appears that his greyhound, Awesome Project, was a chance in a pending $145,000 group 1 race. The dog was in the care of a suspended trainer, currently being investigated for live baiting practices. However, it does not yet appear that there are any specific allegations against Mr Canty’s greyhounds for having been subjected to this treatment.
If there is no specific allegation concerning a particular greyhound, and there is money involved, then chances are a regulatory body should act cautiously before engaging in across the board suspensions. Far better to evade being the target of litigation when its role is to investigate misconduct itself.
In a statement released on Friday night, GRV said it had “resolved to lift the suspensions provided that it receives a statutory declaration from the owner stating that, having made reasonable inquiries, they are not aware of the relevant greyhound having been trained using live baiting.”
The GRV further stated that this decision was based on legal advice.
The GRV added: “If further evidence is received regarding any particular greyhound having been trained using these illegal methods the suspension of that greyhound may be reinstated.”
Statutory declarations are not proof that a greyhound is clear from live baiting training methods. To suggest otherwise would be laughable. Many owners would not be close enough to the training process to even know how their dogs are trained.
A statutory declaration is a written statement that allows a person to declare something to be true. If a person intentionally makes a false statement in a declaration, he or she can be charged with perjury. In Victoria, perjury is an offence under section 314 of the Crimes Act 1958 and at common law.
One expects the statutory declaration process might help to ‘stitch up’ owners with close links to greyhound trainers. In the likely event that the investigation will take months (as Mr Canty suggests), the evidence might well grow against particular trainers and their associates. If those associates are owners who have signed statutory declarations falsely indicating no knowledge of live baiting methods, then any evidence of false declarations may enhance the case against the trainers, and also lead to separate charges against the declarants.
Years ago I read the John Grisham novel, the Firm. Readers of that book will recall that the villains were ultimately defeated because – whilst the authorities could not prove murder – they could prove tax avoidance.
Owners should keep this in mind before wondering whether their signature is worth the paper it is written on.