'Legalise dog racing'
Hundreds of greyhounds race around purpose-built oval tracks in South Africa each weekend—even though the sport has been banned for more than 40 years—and the country is a member of the World Greyhound Racing Federation.
Amatwina, an organisation lobbying to have greyhound racing legalised again, says there are about 4 000 racing greyhounds in the country, and six oval race tracks, which tend to hold meets on Saturdays. Despite this it could take five years for greyhound racing to be legalised—if it manages to defeat those organisations opposed to the sport.
Greyhound racing is most popular in Gauteng and Free State, according to Amatwina executive member Shane Brody. “There is already an amateur function for dog racing in the country, all we need is legislation that will allow us to take it further.”
The sport has long been associated with gambling, which is why it was banned more than 40 years ago under apartheid—for being an immoral pastime. When other forms of gambling were unbanned under the new government, greyhound racing was left behind.
Amatwina has been negotiating with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for more than three years in an attempt to get dog racing legalised. “This is like horse racing, it will be a major job creator, with a potential job placing for 20 000 people,” Brody said.
It is also a major money-spinner for bookmakers. In the United Kingdom R41,1-billion is wagered on greyhound racing every year and prize money adds up to about R154-million. Dog racing is also popular in Ireland, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Vietnam and some states of the US.
Groups or individuals who think the sport should be legalised have been given until the end of October to submit their input, after which the DTI will conduct a six-month study before making its decision.
“The process is actually longer than that; we have appointed a legal team at the University of Free State to research and advise us on the decision on this matter. As soon as they have analysed the outcome of the applications we will take the next step—take the matter to Parliament, which could take another three to four years,” said DTI spokesperson Sidwell Medupe.
Medupe said the research team, under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Snyman-van Deventer, will hold public hearings around the country into the matter. Their brief is not only to consider the gambling aspect of dog racing but socio-economic, regulatory and animal welfare issues as well. “We have done most of our field research but it has been difficult to establish whether the industry is viable for South Africa or not because people don’t want to be known to be taking part in racing because it’s illegal,” said Snyman.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) is concerned about greyhound racing for a number of reasons, including possible abuse of the dogs, excessive breeding of greyhounds and the spread of diseases related to dogs.
“The NSPCA is particularly concerned with the policing of the industry. Their key question is what will happen to the dogs once they retire, as well as how good their living conditions will be,” Snyman said.
So far gambling on dog racing has not been detected by the authorities. But Brody says: “One of our arguments is that dog racing was banned because of gambling and gambling is legal in South Africa. Why then can they not legalise this just like horse racing?”