Insights into litigation, sports law, media and legal culture

Greyhound racing’s ‘Awesome Project’: Australia’s answer to ‘McGruff the Crime Dog’?

Back in 1980, a dog in a rumpled trench coat said, “You don’t know me yet. But you will.” Since then, McGruff the Crime Dog, a cartoon bloodhound created by Saatchi & Saatchi for the National Crime Prevention Council, has taught millions of young Americans that the police can’t fight crime alone.

Is Awesome Project the greyhound racing industry’s unlikely version of McGruff?

He may not wear a trench coat, but this black four-year-old dog has won over $350,000 in prize money. He has had 63 starts. If Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) and Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) had their way, he would not have any more, at least for the time being.

Yet, we seem to be following Awesome Project’s progress around the country as he tests the regulatory systems in each State and finds them wanting.

When the live baiting scandal broke, courtesy of a February 2015 ABC Four Corners program called ‘Making a Killing’, Awesome Project was soon caught in the glare of subsequent scrutiny. His trainer had been suspended for apparently participating in the banned practice. The authorities wanted to suspend Awesome Project too. And so it began.

Awesome Project during happier times:

Lessons from Awesome Project in Victoria

Thanks to the efforts of his owner, Brad Canty, here is the story so far in Victoria:

  • GRV suspended greyhounds in the care of trainers suspended for apparently engaging in live baiting.
  • Awesome Project suspended.
  • Awesome Project also nominated to run in a pending lucrative race.
  • His owner, Brad Canty, threatens GRV with an injunction.
  • GRV lifts suspensions if owners sign a statutory declaration saying they did not know about live baiting. For my previous blog post on this, see here.
  • Awesome Project runs at the Meadows and comes second.
  • GRV changes its rules and tries to make them retrospective, with a view to preventing greyhounds like Awesome Project from racing.
  • Brad Canty obtains an injunction which means GRV is unable to implement its decision. For a detailed analysis of the judgment, see my previous post, Foiled again.
  • Awesome Project runs at the Meadows and comes second. He fails to qualify for the lucrative $250,000 ATC Australian Cup.

Well, that’s Victoria for you. Now, it is time for Awesome Project to test the NSW system.

Awesome Project in New South Wales

So far, he is showing up the system’s flaws nicely. As Paul Newson, the Chief Executive of GRNSW stated in a 25 March 2015 media release:

Last week the NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal (the Tribunal) upheld a number of appeals against a GRNSW decision to suspend greyhounds connected with trainers who had been stood down and remain under investigation by Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) for allegedly engaging in live baiting.



The practical result of this decision is that the suspension is lifted on the Greyhounds and they are now free to compete in NSW races, including the Golden Easter Egg series and other feature races held during the GBOTA Easter Carnival.

The Tribunal’s decision turned on a technical argument around the scope of the term “inquiry” and held that GRNSW could not rely on the GRV inquiry to activate its powers under the Greyhound Racing Rules. But for the technical deficiency, the Tribunal recognised the serious risk of prejudice to the public interest and was persuaded by GRNSW’s submissions.”

If you are wondering whether Awesome Project was one of the affected greyhounds, yes he was.

Here is what happened, courtesy of a 19 March 2015 media release issued by GRNSW:

  • On 27 February, GRNSW suspended 28 greyhounds connected with NSW trainers under investigation for allegedly engaging in live baiting.
  • On 6 March, GRNSW received information that nine greyhounds connected with the suspended Victorian trainers had been moved back to NSW.
  • To protect the integrity of the sport, ensure consistent treatment and guard against the potential for unfair advantage including the prospect of an individual benefiting from the mistreatment of animals, GRNSW suspended the further nine greyhounds.
  • It was this decision of GRNSW to suspend the greyhounds returned from Victoria that was subject of appeals by the greyhound owners to the NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal.
  • Following argument, the NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal ruled that because of a technical issue of interpretation, GRNSW did not have the power to issue the suspensions under local rule 92 and rule 92(5) of the Greyhounds Australasia Rules as it could not rely upon the GRV inquiry to enliven its powers under these rules.
  • The greyhounds the subject of the appeals included Amazing Project.

Why were the appeals upheld?

Local rule 92(1) provides:

If a greyhound is the subject of an inquiry arising out of which a penalty might be imposed under these Rules or the rules of a club and the owner or trainer of the greyhound has been notified by the Controlling Body or the Stewards of that inquiry and the prohibition imposed by this Rule, the greyhound is prohibited from competing in any Event pending the determination of that inquiry and no such greyhound shall be sold or transferred to the care, custody or training or any other person or otherwise disposed of. [emphasis added]

Greyhound racing does not have a uniform regulatory approach across the country. In this context, the term “Local rule” offers a clue… That is, without express language to the contrary, a Local rule likely assumes the inquiry must occur in NSW, not interstate, for the greyhound to be prohibited from racing.

The Greyhounds Australasia Rules contain a similar provision. Despite the fact that their scope sounds wider (i.e. ‘Australasia’), those rules are subordinate to the Local rules.

What has Awesome Project taught us so far?

Awesome Project has taught us:

  • The rules in Victoria were deficient in dealing with trainers who sought to transfer greyhounds to family members to circumvent a suspension.
  • The rules in Victoria failed to consider properly how best to deal with owners of affected greyhounds.
  • The retrospective application of rules is always tricky to apply.
  • Despite these deficiencies, the apparent transfer of Awesome Project to NSW suggests that, even if it takes time, once rules are amended loopholes can be closed.
  • Greyhound racing needs – urgently – a national unified approach to regulation. This happens with plenty of other state-based laws in different contexts. The Uniform Defamation Code comes to mind. Where there is a will there is a way.

Separately, the manner in which integrity information about greyhound racing is buried on official websites is embarrassing. Can I suggest, the best method is to pull out one’s monocle, look for the fine print index at the foot of the page, and search for Column 5. At this point, you are in with a chance.

But wait! Once on the inquiries and appeals page, you will be confronted with no content. Just like this.

If you can find the relevant appeals decision or, in fact, any appeals decision, you are a better person than me.

What is next for Awesome Project?

Awesome Project has had two recent runs in NSW.

On 21 March 2015, he came fourth at Wentworth Park.  But a week later he was scratched from Wentworth Park’s Golden Easter Egg Semi-Final.

We do not know Awesome Project’s star sign.  If we did, his horoscope might say “You have travel on your near horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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