On Thursday the 7th of July, 2016, the NSW government took the unprecedented step to ban the “sport” of greyhound racing statewide, starting from the 1st of July, 2017.The move has massive ramifications for all stakeholders, most of all for the greyhounds themselves. Although greyhound racing has always courted controversy for its exploitative nature, it wasn’t until the Four Corners program in February of 2015 that the broader public became aware of the level of corruption and cruelty present in the sport.
The program relayed images of trainers wilfully abusing not just their own greyhounds but also native animals such as possums, which are protected under federal law.
Video footage showed one possum being attached to the boom where the artificial lure would normally be mounted. Once the dogs had been run ragged in repetitive training drills the trainer finally stopped the lure in the middle of the track and allowed the dogs, now worked up by systemic denial of reward, to maul the still living possum to death.
Possums were just one species to be used: piglets and feral rabbits were also frequently used as live bait for training. The extent of abusive practices were kept secret for years as industry insiders routinely tipped off trainers of impending visits from regulators.
If you thought that live baiting was the only grave offence then sadly you were wrong. Older greyhounds, their profitability exhausted, were killed en masse and disposed of. If they couldn’t be disposed of within Australia they were quickly shipped into Asia, where they were either raced to death or used in illegal fight pits.
You’d think that the Australian greyhound industry would have quickly tried to correct course following the Four Corners episode, but instead, faced with an impending commission into its culture and heavy sanctions it simply continued the practices that had it in dire straits.
The doping of greyhounds, often with ice/methamphetamines, continued unabated. As did the baiting and abuse of greyhounds. Long time trainers/racers are now so deeply entrenched in the culture of negative reinforcement to secure a positive result they can no longer be trusted in a sport where multiple animals are abused on a daily basis.
Some of the media commentary today has already swung towards the other states, particularly Victoria and Queensland. One specific line of speculation has focused on the future of these states as NSW trainers and owners are forced to move their animals across state borders to continue racing them. While this is indeed a legitimate short term concern it should be recognised that these states will, most likely, follow NSW’s bold move of banning the industry altogether.
All sport, across the world, carries some level of inherent risk. In soccer there is the chance to sustain long term brain injury from repeated headers. In Formula 1 there is the chance for a catastrophic crash. In any contact sport there is the chance of broken bones, torn muscles, and less frequently long term injury or even death.
All of these sports involve human participants, who profit from their participation either socially, financially or through good health (the lucky professional ones get all three). Regardless of the outcome they are all playing because they were able to make a choice on their own behalf.
Today, the NSW government chose to help piglets, possums, rabbits and greyhounds.