Integrity? Are they geese or ganders? By Rob Young

Integrity? Are they geese or ganders? By Rob Young

Sometimes I despair of the standard of sports administration in Australia.

Over recent years, two major sporting governing organisations have been standouts of inadequacy and incompetence in the way they conduct their operations – the National Rugby League is just a cot-case, and Racing Victoria isn’t far behind. The problem with both organisations is easy to define. Both worry too much about the appearance of things, and not enough about the nuts and bolts of daily operations, and that simply leads to poor decision-making and confused leadership. Leadership of the industry and the sport is what governing bodies are meant to provide, and the National Rugby League and Racing Victoria fail to do that. Leadership is about actions more than it is about words, about consistency in direction more than knee-jerk reactions to issues, about vision more than wishful thinking, about facing facts more than avoiding conflict. Granted, Racing Victoria hasn’t created quite the same level of farce that is represented by the NRL refereeing debacle, but they certainly seem to be trying very hard to get there!

Two things have happened in Victorian racing in the past few days that illustrate the problem. Firstly, the new Chairman of Racing Victoria, Brian Kruger, has announced that his Board’s No. 1 focus will be on integrity. All very laudable, but what does it mean? Secondly, Lloyd Williams has come out in a radio interview and confirmed racing’s worst kept secret – he is head trainer at Macedon Lodge.

Speaking after the Racing Victoria AGM, Kruger said that there had been some “challenges” regarding the integrity of racing, and went on to say that he saw those challenges as being “not so much with the department itself”, but “in terms of integrity outcomes, we’re seeing too many issues.” OK, what does all that mean? What issues is he referring to? And here is where the waffle really stokes up – he then went on to say “I would like to see less issues from an integrity point of view so it’s getting understanding of the root cause of those issues and what we need to do differently to minimise or prevent them in the future”.

He must live in a parallel universe. The root cause of integrity issues in racing is the simple fact that the sport is built on the accumulation of as much money as possible by the participants in the sport, either by wagering or through prizemoney. Where dollars are involved, there will always be people prepared to push the boundaries. That’s just human nature, and it’s not difficult to understand for those who can walk in a straight line without concentrating.

So, what are the things to look at, Mr. Kruger?

Firstly, take a serious look at the Integrity Department, and, in particular, at the way the Stewards Panel operates under the current Chief Steward. Ask the question – is there a level of consistency in the decision-making of the Panel that reassures participants that they get a fair deal? Answer is “No”. Realise that Racing Victoria stands alone in having the distinction that their Chief Steward riled somebody sufficiently to get his home shot up. Recognise that senior jockeys routinely trade angry comments with stewards at suspension appeals and protest hearings. Understand that the cobalt situation was handled abysmally, and is still a ticking time bomb. Accept the fact that more jockeys get more suspensions in Victoria than in any other racing jurisdiction. Most of all, get the knowledge firmly embedded in your thinking that the days of stewards treating jockeys like naughty children were over years and years ago.

You can’t have the thing both ways. If the Integrity Department has done a “great job in the last twelve months”, and those were your words, why are there “too many issues in terms of integrity outcomes”, again your words?

Want less issues? Take action to get more consistency in the interpretation of the Racing Rules. Take action to rein in the Stewards Panel. Listen more to the trainers, owners and jockeys and less to people who seem to view their roles as industry police. In short, work to build trust between racing’s administrators and racing’s participants, because there surely isn’t much there in Victorian racing right now.

One of the things that can, and should, be corrected is the situation at Macedon Lodge.

Lloyd Williams has always been the kingpin at Macedon Lodge, and always will be. For anyone to believe that Lloyd doesn’t run the show, totally, is the height of naivety. For heaven’s sake, the man was in business with Kerry Packer! How much of a shrinking violet could he be? Williams told radio listeners that “You’re talking to the head trainer here”, and followed it up with “
The blueprint emanates right here. I’m chairman and chief executive, I decide how the horses will work and how we will feed them and all those sorts of things”.  He then followed up with “I don’t want to be the trainer”. The trouble is, he is – just not in the race book.

That’s where the dilemma comes in for the Integrity Team at Racing Victoria. Not only is Macedon Lodge an outstandingly successful operation, it is also a company 100% owned by the Williams holding company with a completely reasonable, normal and understandable organisation chart. But it doesn’t fit the archaic model of separate owner, separate trainer that the Rules of Racing imply.

Should Lloyd Williams be a registered trainer? Well, not when he has a registered trainer working as an employee of Macedon Lodge. What can Racing Victoria do about it? Precisely nothing. Williams is just an owner with a private trainer who has to listen to what the boss wants – and do just that. Is it pushing the boundaries? Of course, but maybe the boundaries are a bit fluid anyway. And for anyone to think that Robert Hickmott held the reins at Macedon Lodge, or that Liam Howley will, is just stupid.

Once again, the only possible outcome for Racing Victoria is to look ineffectual. And they are really good at it.