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Why the dogs turned men into monsters

12 July 2016

Greyhound racing has long been a sport justified by gambling, writes Dr Steve Georgakis. 

Two greyhounds racing on a dirt track

The pressure on the greyhound industry had been mounting. The publicity was negative and endless: live baiting, killing of tens of thousands of dogs, doping, cheating.

According to ABC's Four Corners report, Making a Killing, greyhound racing "involves big money, it is also a sport with blood on its hands, blood and cruelty big time, and then there's the cheating".

Many in the wider community not intimately involved in the sport, and proponents of animals rights, felt perplexed about why the sport still existed.

There has been resistance to a ban of the sport for two reasons. Firstly, it has assumed a mythical aspect of an ever-disappearing 'old' Australian way of life. Secondly, it has strong gambling links.

More than 30 years ago, the Hoodoo Gurus' first breakthrough hit was 'My Girl'. It described the love between an owner and his greyhound, which raced at Harold Park. A viewing of the video clip shows the link between greyhound racing, working class and Australian culture.

The sport is still considered a working class and egalitarian sport and in many ways it is the anti-thesis of the commercialised and glamorized 'day at the Randwick races'. The relatively cheap price of breeding and racing greyhounds –- as opposed to horses -– has also allowed the sport take hold among lower socio-economic classes. Even for international visitors to Australia, most countries around the world have horse tracks and races, although very few countries have dogs.

For many Australians, attending a night at the dogs assumes the same kind of experience as surf lifesaving or going to the AFL; it is an 'Aussie experience'. 'A night at the dogs' represented a step back into time.

This is not the only reason it was kept alive. Clearly, its main justification was gambling.

Making a Killing reported Australians wager $4 billion a year on the sport. This includes more than 40,000 races and more than 300,000 dogs running at tracks across the country each year. The various sporting agencies are fond of greyhound racing, as on any one day there is a continual opportunity to bet on races. In a typical race meeting there may be 10 races, each race taking place every 20 minutes. Meets are taking place all over Australia.

The gambling that goes along with greyhound racing and racing in general is what has driven it to become a corrupt and abusive sport.

The greed created by the prospect of winning or laying bets on the prospect of winning encouraged people to take drastic measures to increase their dogs' speed in order to win or turn a blind eye to animal cruelty, such as live baiting and the killing of thousands of greyhounds because they are not bringing money for the owner because they are "slow dogs."

Greyhound racing has deception that participants buy into as well. There are hidden truths to Australian sport that seem to be rather left unsaid.

After the Premier's announcement, we saw some of this denial in the spectacle that is created around the greyhound racing.

The greyhound authorities let the sport down because they haven't been able to protect and police it.

They have turned a blind eye to it.

As Four Corners noted "putting together animals, gambling, and prize purses is a toxic mix, capable of turning men into monsters."

Dr Steve Georgakis is a Senior Lecturer of Pedagogy and Sports Studies at the University of Sydney. This articles was first published by Huffington Post Australia

Luke O'Neill

Media and PR Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)