PART II: Present Governance and Regulation of British Greyhound Racing

Chapter 3

THE BRITISH GREYHOUND RACING BOARD

Introduction

This Review is primarily concerned with the regulation of greyhound racing and so in many chapters below is particularly concerned with the work currently executed by and under the auspices of the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC). However, the other main institution in the sport's ruling structure, the British Greyhound Racing Board (BGRB), must also be introduced since it is the most powerful ruling body in the sport, has considerable influence on the shaping of greyhound regulation and, representing the racing operators and participants, is deeply concerned with the practical implementation and financial consequences of the sport's regulation.

The Board is not only an important part of the industry's present ruling structure, but is also seen by many witnesses as part of the present problems facing the industry. Furthermore, it will in future, collectively and through its individual members, also be a main player in any restructuring of the industry which may follow the publication of this Review.

The BGRB originated in 1979, within the senior NGRC, as a 'representative' forum for the commercial stakeholders in greyhound racing. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s the two bodies were closely related, sharing premises and executive officers. In 1994 the Board's directors proposed a radical reorganisation which would delineate and elevate its powers, including its CEO having senior status over his Club equivalent. The Club saw this as diminishing its own position and really an assertion that the Board would be the supreme power running British greyhound racing. The Club rejected this assertion of power and so the Board unilaterally separated from it, adopting control over the commercial, political, marketing, public relations, finance and administration roles of the sport.

The Board became in most ways the sport's body of governance, though it never formally adopted the title of Governing Body. The Club certainly never conceded that the Board was the governing body. To this day (as in its recent evidence to the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare) the Club describes the Board as merely a 'representative' forum, a description which the Board itself apparently accepts in its evidence to this Review. Consequently there is no formal and universally recognised 'governing' body in greyhound racing, though the Board effectively acts as such.

The Role and Responsibilities of the BGRB

The current composition of the Board is: an independent chairman; two independent directors; five promoter representatives; four from the owners, trainers and breeders; and the Senior Steward of the NGRC.

Their main responsibilities are:

  • The greyhound industry's strategic plan; its racing, commercial and welfare policies; the annual budget.
  • Providing a public relations and media service for the sport and operating political communications with ministers, departments and MPs.
  • Representing the sport in its external relations with the public, with external stakeholders such as the bookmakers, and with the Greyhound Forum and the Gambling Commission.

In practice the Board has only limited detailed control over individual tracks and their commercial racing programmes - though the promoters of these tracks are strongly represented on the Board.

The BGRB normally employs some five full-time staff. These comprise: a General Secretary who (together with an Executive Assistant) manages the office, the Board budgets, financial and legal affairs and coordinates the development of industry policy and development; a Welfare Officer (assisted by a welfare consultant) who coordinates welfare policy, acts as secretary to the Welfare Committee and services the trade bodies of the breeders, owners and trainers; a Finance Manager; and a Policy Officer (currently vacant) to assist the General Secretary in developing strategic policy for the industry. The total cost of all staff and consultants when in post would be upwards of £350,000 per annum.

Since 1994, the Board has sought to expand its role and authority, assisted especially by the mounting revenues from bookmakers; income from the voluntary levy has increased from £1.6 million in 1994 to £11.5 million in 2006. The Board has extended its influence into some regulatory areas which are of practical concern to the promoters but which the Club considers to be its own territory. It has for instance recently taken great interest in greyhound welfare and has dramatically increased its expenditure in that area. It takes a close - and according to the Club a sometimes negative - interest in the Club's proposals for rule formulation and rule changes. The Board also seeks to hold the Club accountable for its regulatory performance and the Board's influence over finance enables it to constrain the Club's activities. Consequently there is an inevitable perception by the Club that the Board is interfering in what the Club believes are - or wishes were - its own unique regulatory responsibilities.

Structure of the Board

Following repeated criticism that the Board was controlled by the promoters - and hence commercial priorities were dominating integrity and welfare concerns - significant changes were introduced from 2004 in the Board's composition and procedures. An independent chairman, Lord Lipsey, was appointed and under his leadership the Board has been reformed. Two robust non-executive directors were appointed. No single stakeholder now has a numerical majority - the five promoters on a Board of 12 no longer constitute the absolute 'promoter control' which many witnesses have criticised to this Review. Much business is now delegated to a streamlined standing committee system covering commercial, racing and welfare matters while a new executive committee was established to conduct business between Board meetings. The budget is now effectively handled by the chairman and the two independent directors - a 75% majority is required for budget issues, so the three independents and the Senior Steward have a blocking vote if they agree.

Clearly the composition and functioning of the Board has been much improved in the past three years. Its style of debate has apparently been mollified, with few votes these days, though the discussions on policy issues can be as 'full and frank' as ever. One of the new independent directors stated to us that: 'I have never seen anything like it. Full of very upfront confrontations. Very aggressive. But at the end there is usually a consensus. The independent directors make the difference. They change the atmosphere and culture. The promoters no longer control the agenda. The balance of power has altered'. The benefits of having an independent dimension on the Board are clear - and might be increased in the future (as discussed in Part III)

However, in an industry where criticism comes more readily to mouth than approbation, those changes in the composition and the balance of power on the Board have not led to the BGRB receiving anything like universal approval. The Board still carries the burden of its unsatisfactory history, just as the Club carries the burden of its own.

Issues in Evidence

Many criticisms of the Board were submitted to this Review, by the NGRC and especially from the welfare side of the sport. Specific criticisms mention 'poor transparency' of the Board's affairs and too little accountability of its financial expenditure. On welfare, there is acknowledgement of the increased activity under the new Board regime, but this does not satisfy the welfare charities. Apart from criticising the recent 2007 cuts in Board prize money as damaging welfare at the trainers' sharp end, the main thrust of their attack is that welfare is not placed institutionally at the centre of the sport's governing structure.

Many welfare lobbyists seek a statutorily regulated sport where welfare is formally and strongly represented within its governing body. Greyhound Voice, one of the more constructive welfare critics, asserts that ‘the current structure must be replaced by one that places the welfare of the greyhound and the good of the sport as a whole first and foremost.’ The APGAW report sets out the case for a new ruling body - including interestingly both the welfare lobbies and the independent tracks within its formal composition That issue is examined further below (see Chapter 9).

Here it can be said that it seems unlikely that one non-commercial aspect, 'welfare', however important, will ever, or should ever, be placed first in the priorities and structure of any commercial sport. Without profitability any commercial sport will disappear. The valuable role of the welfare lobby is probably best conducted as an outside interest lobby, without the conflicting and compromising pressures of sharing management. But the argument that animal welfare should be given greater priority in the affairs and considerations of the present Board and possibly in the future institutional governing structure of the sport is a serious one, which is reflected in the discussion of the reforms proposed throughout this Review.

The criticisms which witnesses submitted of the present Board (though some may reflect the performance of the Board prior to its recent changes) and the demands for its reform are considerable. Dogs Trust states that the present Board is ‘convoluted, opaque and heavily biased by commercial interests’ and that it requires radical reforms and reconstruction ‘to protect dog welfare and ensure a viable industry’. The Society of Greyhound Veterinarians (SGV) sets out a litany of criticisms. It asserts the familiar theme that the Board is ‘controlled by the promoters and the bookmakers’ and that it needs to be ‘drawn from a wider base andů. To be more transparent and accountable in some of its financial affairs’. The Board is allegedly (as was said equally of the Club) ‘unfit for purpose’ and, most strikingly, ‘as presently constituted is unsuited to take on the overall governance of the greyhound industry’. One radical promoter concluded that the Board ‘is as ineffective in governance as the Club is in regulation’ - a view also expressed by others.

Conclusion

Clearly, the new Board, despite its commendable reforms and adoption of greater welfare priorities and expenditure, has not won the approval of significant sections of the industry and, in its present form, is not everywhere accepted as having the full credibility necessary in a future governing body.

This Review bears in mind those serious criticisms and seeks to meet them in its proposals for a new unitary body of governance and regulation. This new body - while it should make use of the talents and experience of many on the present Board - would not carry the heavy burden of historical internecine warfare which blights the present ruling bodies in the sport.