Is greyhound racing coming back to SA?
Cape Town - Animal welfare groups have accused government ministers of having “dollar signs in their eyes” after putting greyhound racing back on the agenda. Is it making a comeback? News24 finds out.
Greyhound racing has been illegal in South Africa for more than half a century - after being banned in 1946.
In 2011, a government commission looked into legalising greyhound racing but the majority ruled that it should not be legalised.
‘If the time comes’
Despite the consultation in 2011, earlier this year the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) put forward a new draft national gambling norms and standards bill, which included greyhound racing among other gambling activities.
The bill proposed that a "uniform policy framework should be developed that is well researched and consulted upon with stakeholders, in particular with animal welfare organisations, before legalisation of this regime takes place".
A spokesperson for the DTI confirmed to News24 that it “had not yet started the process” but that greyhound racing made the agenda for “if the time comes”.
The spokesperson added: “We still need to do more research”.
But Cora Bailey, Companion Animal Advisory for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), asked: "What can have possibly changed since 2011 when the DTI backed down from the idea of greyhound racing after spending huge sums of taxpayers' money on a three-year investigation into its viability?"
‘Not making money’
Bailey told News24: “They have dollar signs in their eyes. The government thinks they’ll get revenue, but greyhound racing is failing elsewhere in the world - it’s not making money”.
Certainly, the industry’s decline in Europe and the US is well documented. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the industry is “slowly dying” because of competition from casinos and lack of interest from younger gamblers who are looking for faster games.
In the UK, latest figures from the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), the governing body for licensed greyhound racing, show that the country’s 25 racecourses lost £5.5m (R98m) in 2013.
The GBGB said that trainers - who own almost 40% of racing greyhounds - lost an estimated £3m (R53m) on training operations.
In the last decade in the US, the amount wagered every year in Florida for example, has more than halved - from $620m to $300m, according to a report by the Miami Herald.
Worse still, the 2011 commission carried out in South Africa concluded that there was “no prospect that it will generate significant revenue”.
Though the 2011 commission admitted they were “divided” over the issue, the majority ruled against bringing back greyhound racing.
As well as finding no financial benefits, they said there was “legitimate opposition based on animal welfare issues”, as well as warning that “it may lead to the proliferation of gambling” in South Africa.
Jaco Pieterse from the National Council of the Societies for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) pointed out that greyhound racing is illegal across Africa, adding that it is not a traditional African pastime.
He recently told the government that in considering legalising dog racing, it was “condoning vast amounts of money being spent on gambling and animal cruelty rather than supporting family economics”.
Bailey agrees, saying: “We dare not let it get entrenched here”. People who live in disadvantaged areas - "the people you see in lottery queues" - would inadvertently get involved in gambling, she warned.
Both Bailey and Pieterse warn the government of its moral responsibility to impoverished South Africans.
Hunters not racers
The DTI’s draft bill said that it would consult animal welfare groups before moving to legalise greyhound racing.
Yet no animal welfare organisations have been consulted by the government to date. Both the NSPCA and IFAW have written to the DTI detailing their opposition, but News24 understands that neither has received a response.
Pieterse said: “People must accept the fact that running and racing are two different things. Dog racers themselves will say greyhounds love to run, yet again their dogs are confined for most of their lives in small cages.”
Like the cheetah, greyhounds are natural hunters - rather than racers. They have to be trained to race for their owners.
Greyhounds have an average racing lifespan of just four years, barring injuries, according to the NSPCA. The average lifespan of a pet dog meanwhile is 10 to 15 years.
Given that greyhounds can have two litters of 12 puppies a year, there is always a surplus - as Bailey points out, “everyone is trying to breed a winner”.
But more than 50% of the greyhounds that are bred are disposed of before they reach the tracks.
Over-population and disease control
According to Bailey, South Africa is already struggling to police illegal activities such as dog fighting and puppy mills as well as dealing with abandoned or diseased animals.
Policing powers related to animal welfare either don’t exist or are inadequate, IFAW claims, with its projects in South Africa’s disadvantaged communities showing that over-population and disease control have become “major problems”.
The DTI spokesperson could not tell News24 when the government was planning to consult animal welfare groups or review the current law. He said: “We will see. There is still a lot of work to do.”