Fall in greyhound racing crowds blamed on perception and media refusal to cover sport

Fall in greyhound racing crowds blamed on perception and media refusal to cover sport

Frank Nyhan, chairman of Greyhound Racing Ireland, Jim Power, consultant economist, and Gerard Dollard, CEO of Greyhound Racing Ireland, at Shelbourne Park, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells

Public perception of greyhound racing has been reflected in falling attendances while the industry as a whole is going through "a challenging time", a report from Greyhound Racing Ireland has found.

The industry was at the centre of a scandal in 2019 when an RTÉ documentary found up to 6,000 greyhounds were being killed each year because they were not fast enough.

It also revealed the industry was breeding 1,000% more puppies than it needed, leading to a cull every year.

The report, compiled by economist Jim Power for Greyhound Racing Ireland, found that "public perception; the refusal of a number of media outlets to cover greyhound racing, most notably RTÉ; and the withdrawal by Fáilte Ireland/ Tourism Ireland from including greyhound racing in its promotional activity had been reflected in falling attendance".

Just over 10,000 people are estimated to derive economic benefit from the sector.

In 2021, greyhound racing received €19.2m from the State — an increase of €2.4m — despite a significant drop in the numbers attending race meetings.

Up to last year, the industry has received approximately €280m in taxpayer funding since 2000.

For prize money in 2020, in which 1,085 race meetings were held, the average win was €425, down from €473 the year before.

The average attendance in 2020 at race meetings was 116. File picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The average attendance in 2020 at race meetings was 116. File picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The report states that a possible target audience for 2023 is 630,000, up from 462,709 in 2019 and 126,396 in 2020. 

The average attendance in 2020 at race meetings was 116.

Chairman of Greyhound Racing Ireland, Frank Nyhan, told the Irish Examiner the advertisers who cancelled their sponsorship after the documentary aired had been "actively targetted".

"We've actually improved our sponsorship in 2019 after the adverse publicity," he said.

"What you find is people are still happy to sponsor. What they want to do is in a less profiled way, because I think some feel they are being actively targeted.

"We had some new sponsors coming on board, there were three sponsors in the immediate aftermath of the programme [who dropped their sponsorship] but we haven't seen any significant reduction."

Although the industry has come in for severe criticism, Mr Nyhan said "any sports or any activity in which animals are used has been under the spotlight probably for the last 10 years".

"We just have to be clear with the public so I think people can have confidence that it is a well-run, well-regulated sport here."

When asked if he was confident that all dogs used for racing are treated correctly, Mr Nyhan said: "Nobody can ever give 100% guarantee on anything.

I think whatever industry, you will always find people who think that they have a quick way around the regulation or a quick way around the integrity measures.

"We have excluded six people from the tracks, currently for active exclusion orders we have another six cases pending and really if we come across people that are not maintaining welfare to the standards we will take action. 

"We're serious about welfare and if people don't meet the required standard well then they will suffer the consequences."

On the footage in the documentary, the chairman said he did not "think greyhound racing Ireland can be held responsible for animal welfare practices in China or elsewhere".

"I think like any documentary you can package something to such an extent that the visual impact of the footage can be quite horrifying and there's no doubt it was quite horrifying. A lot of the footage was historic."

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