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Greyhounds: Kelly hits back over Crosbie accusation.

Byline: Jim Cremin

TOM KELLY, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers and a director of the British Greyhound Racing Fund, yesterday rejected a claim from welfare campaigner Annette Crosbie that bookmakers are acting unfairly in failing to hand over additional funding to benefit greyhound welfare.

Crosbie, in a letter in today's Racing Post (see page 99), says that Kelly had told her that bookmakers wanted to make substantial `ring-fenced' payment for greyhound welfare.

Kelly said: "I had a meeting with Annette, but I didn't promise her anything at all, and didn't imply it either, and wonder if it's sour grapes that we didn't hand money over to her organisation."

Kelly said it was unlikely any bookmaker was going to give money to the League Against Cruel Sports. "How can you? The very name implies, by definition, that greyhound racing is a cruel sport - which clearly it isn't.

"I take exception to her comments. It's disappointing because I had what I thought was a good meeting with her; it turned out we both came from the same area of Edinburgh, and even went to the same grammar school. But I made clear I couldn't promise anything, nor deliver anything.

"Our view is bookmakers, through BAGS, pay substantial fees to promoters for the use of greyhound racing in their shops. Included in that fee is an element to ensure the dogs are looked after.

"On top of that we pay pounds 6m to the Fund, and since the introduction of Gross Profits Tax those payments have involved a significant increase.

"The point is the bookmaking industry is meeting its commitments to greyhound racing. My personal view is the Fund could give all its money to welfare and it wouldn't worry me, and I'm happy to agree the Fund should take a look at how it spends its money.

"In that context I find Annette's comments irritating because it was actually me who tabled the proposal that the Fund should double its contribution to the Retired Greyhound Trust, to pounds 600,000.

"I recall some BGRB representatives were initially against this, possibly until they realised the negative PR implications. This was an example of the betting industry helping lead the way."

The Fund has subsequently changed its emphasis to a priority for welfare spending over, say, customer facilities, and the pounds 600,000 RGT grant of last year was repeated this year.

The Fund says its direct welfare spending last year amounted to pounds 1.35m, or 25 per cent of budget, and indirect spend - i.e. track safety improvements and integrity - brought that figure up to pounds 2m, or 40 per cent of budget.

Negotiations for any increase by bookmakers in the rate of payments to the Fund have stalled, although bookmakers point out the Fund remains turnover-based and automatically benefits from the jump in betting since GPT.

Crosbie, who has emerged as the bookmakers' chief critic, responded: "There is only one set of people making money out of greyhound racing, and that's off-course bookmakers. pounds 600,000 for retired greyhounds? Compare that to pounds 100 million total profit made over six months by just one company, William Hill.

"I am going to ensure they get so much bad publicity that they won't know what's hit them, and yes, you can take that as a threat.

"It's bad enough when you look at what they pay towards welfare, but when you take what greyhound trainers and kennelstaff earn, it becomes outrageous, and something that's intolerable in a civilised society.

"But I should make clear that the League simply gives me a better platform to speak out from, we are certainly not against greyhound racing."

One racing manager, who asked not to be named, commented yesterday: "Suddenly I've heard trainers wondering if Annette is `their' only hope. Aspirations were raised by the New Deal, but have been dashed by the shambles at the BGRB. Older trainers just want to get out and retire, younger ones wonder how they can get out. They are working intolerable hours for peanuts, and there's no leadership in the sport.

"Geoffrey Thomas spoke out, and was got rid-of by his own people. It might be simplistic, but that's how they see it, and I detect a growing support for Annette. Some of the League's ideas are mistaken, but many make sense. Perhaps it's the only route to change left?"

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Tom Kelly - `Disappointed'
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 30, 2003
Words:738
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