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GREYHOUNDS: Cant believe Im backing the BGRB? Rest as sur ed I am! The recent resignation of NGRC senior steward John Nicholson once again threw the spotlight upon the power struggle between greyhound racing's political organs, the B GRB and NGRC. Here Floyd Amphlett, editor of the Greyhound Star and, on the facing page, Racing Post greyhound editor Jim Cremin give their views on the controversy.


IT is 2003. Gypsy Rose Rooney - the didicoy mystic - tells me that within two years I will be writing an article praising the BGRB. There are only two feasible explanations. One, I have just returned after a very sociable evening with my new mates Adrian Mutu and Mark Bosnich. Or two - I've just discovered that I am the long lost heir to Jarvis Astaire's millions.

So how could it happen? The bottom line is, I have never been a fan of the British Greyhound Racing Board - not even when my dad was a director, some 20 odd years ago.

My earliest recollections of the Board are of it being largely irrelevant; an industry talking shop, with no real power or purpose.

The change in its role came about a decade ago with its separation from the NGRC on the retirement of their joint-chief exec, Archie Newhouse.

Almost at once, a power struggle developed. In one corner, the rules makers, and traditional industry leaders, the NGRC.

In the other - the promoters, albeit hiding behind and manipulating a board that supposedly represented all sections of the industry - the BGRB. It was a tailor-made facade with which to meet the Government when seeking a levy.

The levy never arrived, of course, but the Fund did. The problem was, it wasn't delivering the sort of cash to which the greyhound industry felt itself entitled.

Various battles followed culminating in `New Deal' - a scheme that involved attempting to bully the bookmaking industry into surrender. When the gloves came off, the bookies inevitably beat the crap out of the BGRB.

It was probably the lowest point in greyhound racing's recent history - but also a turning point. Several of the industry's big beasts decided that a new approach was needed.

Cometh the hour, cometh John `The Hatchet' Curran.

The Kinsley promoter took over as a Board director, at a time when it appears the NGRC were plotting its own coup d'etat. Certainly, owners, trainers and breeders representatives claim that they held secret meetings with the NGRC and were promised a slice of the action on a new board to replace the BGRB. (The Kinsley promoter has privately admitted that he was also courted by the Club, although full details have never emerged.) Curran, a straight-talking Yorkshireman, struck a chord with the industry `grass roots' and persuaded them to stick with the Board.

Heads had to roll. The first job was to rid the BGRB of the architects of New Deal.

Curran, backed throughout by Shawfield's Billy King and the grass roots first saw off BGRB Chief Exec Geoffrey Thomas.

Thomas was followed through the door by arguably the most powerful figure in the entire greyhound industry, Jarvis Astaire.

``There is a time in the affairs of men,'' wrote Shakespeare, ``when taken at the tide leads on to greater things.''

The appointment of Lord David Lipsey as BGRB chairman in December 2003 was of huge significance in so many ways.

Yes, he is the first BGRB chairman with any degree of political clout. Yes, he is also respected by the bookmaking industry.

But, far away more important than both attributes was Lipsey's price for agreeing to be chairman.

It was, quite simply, a fair BGRB. Just look at the dynamics of the new 13-man board. Five promoters, two greyhound owners, a breeder, a trainer, an NGRC representative - PLUS Lipsey supported by two independent directors.

The day has gone whereby the promoters, supported by a sympathetic BGRB chairman, could steamroller any decision.

The net result is the best, most focused, most democratic board that the greyhound industry has ever known.

Don't take my word for it. Have a chat with John Haynes, the trainers' representative and head of the BGRB's all-important welfare committee.

After years of being outvoted and sidelined, Haynes will tell you: ``It is like a breath of fresh air. This is the most united board that I have been on and we are, at last, making real progress.''

SO what of the NGRC? Just as the Board have become more democratic, I believe that the Club has gone in the opposite direction. Hiding behind its need for `independence' the stewards furtively changed their constitution two years ago to exclude BGRB interference. This was while the recently departed senior steward John Nicholson was a serving BGRB director.

The result is, the NGRC is now also unaccountable to a degree that is staggering to imagine - all the BGRB can currently do is apply influence It is run by stewards who are apparently self-appointed and self-governing. They have unlimited powers, unlimited time in office and seem answerable to absolutely no one.

They regard the wishes of industry as unwanted interference. When asked to make changes to the rules of racing or their methods of operation, their chief executive invariably replies: ``I will take your views back to the stewards.'' But don't hold your breath!

The majority of the industry sees the NGRC as arrogant, out of touch and out of date.

Its fines and attitude are disappointing. But bookmaker power over BAGS contracts and TV coverage practically guarantees a high level of integrity.

The circumstances surrounding the vast majority of positive drugs tests point to carelessness or stupidity rather than fraud. This is not a sport rife with `drugs cheats', a favourite expression, apparently, in Bonny Street.

More fundamentally, the Club has forgotten its role as servant of the greyhound industry and decided that it should be its master.

It needs a massive shake-up in terms of procedures, rules, and application of existing rules.

The Tom Flaherty case, which will cost the industry - all of us - around half a million pounds, has opened the floodgates.

The Club believed that no judge would intervene in a dispute, or that no one would have the resilience and cash to expose their flaws. They were wrong. (I have no doubts whatsoever that a decent barrister would drive a coach and horses through the Club's inquiries relating to nandrolone positives.) A legal precedent has been set. The days of NGRC smug confidence in its own invincibility have gone for ever.

So where does that leave us?

I firmly believe that a revamped NGRC should be the industry's police force and judiciary. It should catch the wrongdoers, trainers, promoters or whoever, and judge them on the rules drawn up and agreed by the industry.

It can carry out this role as an integral part of the BGRB.

Critics will be appalled - `we can't have the greyhound industry policing itself.' Of course we can - we always have. Forget this claptrap about remaining `independent'. The NGRC was always bankrolled by the industry.

If you believe that the BGRB is now a decent institution run in the best interests of all sections of the industry, why shouldn't the NGRC report to it?

Anybody who thinks that one or more promoters would be able to lean on the NGRC stewards through the BGRB clearly hasn't met David Lipsey or his independent directors.

Besides, it is almost impossible to extricate integrity and welfare and in that quarter few question Lipsey's commitment.

Greyhound racing's self mutilation days should be at an end. We need less `them and us'.

A BGRB capable of putting the industry's best interests in front of any one of its constituent parts might just be able to prevent the sport from its apparent terminal decline.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 13, 2005
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