Wow. You go away for ten days or so, and all hell breaks loose.
For those of you who have been waiting for a reaction to the various events of the last week, I apologise. I was, as was correctly commented on, on holiday. The trouble with writing a public blog is that you can hardly advertise the fact that you’re off, unless you want your house burgled.
I left for a beach on the day that Betfair floated, which gave me a certain amusement: I have been told for about six years that “I suppose the day Betfair float you’ll go and sit on a beach”, and even though it was only for half term rather than never to come back, the perfect coincidence of the timing made me smile. But when I went, I didn’t suspect that so many people in so many situations would completely lose the plot while I am away.
As it is, so much is happening that it is, frankly, difficult to take it all in. There have been interesting developments in the French gambling market; and Ralph Topping’s somewhat curious view of a Betfair newspiece in the Sunday Telegraph (echoed, apparently, by Simon Milham in the Evening Standard, except that they ended up saying the opposite of each other by mistake) also begs comment.
But, amusing though both have been, they will have to wait another day: in a week when my ‘things I might blog about’ folder has been bursting at the seams, UK Racing demands its moment. And perhaps the most damning assessment of what a competitive market that section has delivered this week is that when the Darwinian medals for self-destruction are handed out, I am not sure that Nic Coward even makes the podium, keeping his head while all about him have been losing theirs.
So much has been written about Paul Roy’s decision to invest in Betfair that I am not sure it is even worth me commenting so long after the fact. I read a lot of sensible analysis while I was away, and it seems foolish to try to compete. Nick Luck, Sean Boyce, Alan Lee and Greg Wood in particular take a bow, if that is not too wide a field.
I will therefore say only two brief things about the decision.
First, it demonstrates in spades that Paul knows that Racing has no case at all: while I would absolutely defend his right to say that his fund managers are independent to make investment decisions on his behalf, I have no doubt whatsoever that he would, as an astute businessman, stop them from investing in anything that he felt was going to halve in value. Betfair would surely do that if a segment of their customers were truly, as the BHA is pushing to happen, levied as bookmakers (not because half their revenues come from this fictitious group of people, but because of the uncertainty that such a bizarre decision would create for the model as a whole). I remain, as Paul apparently does, of the opinion that this scenario is cloud-cuckoo land, and if you have any doubts yourself, I suggest you look in detail at the submissions that the HBLB has posted on its website. My view is that Betfair had no case to answer; but if they did, they answered it in spades.
Second, I found it bordering on the comic how quickly the other “leaders” of Racing closed ranks around him to defend his right to invest, while completely ignoring the implications of him exercising that right, as expressed immediately above. Of course he had a right to invest, and of course he did it for business reasons; but that is absolutely miles from the point, which is a fact not lost on anyone who doesn’t hold Racing Office. To be fair, I gather from a good BHA source that Nic Coward was apoplectic when he heard the news, but that is by the by: I have never thought that Racing’s “leaders” carried many of their flock with them in the past in their public pronouncements; I think it even less now.
But that is really tittle-tattle. A far bigger scandal, in my view, comes from the Deloitte report which considered Racing’s case put to the Levy Board consultation. Again, much has been written. But is it possible to damn the BHA too much in this regard? Paul Struthers (bless his cotton socks) may defend it all he wants by describing it as ‘adding nothing’ on the basis that it said no words about either offshore or exchanges; but the fact is that it considered a case believed (by Racing) to be the most robust ever made, and then dismissed it in more comprehensively than any dismissal since Shane Warne bowled Mike Gatting. The only more embarrassing scenario I can think of in life would be the Mastercard blowjob advert.
But in spite of all this, the gold medal for Extraordinary Comment of the Week goes, I think, to Paul Dixon, the ROA President, for his call for a strike (reported all over the place). I know I’ve speculated on this before, but surely - surely - no-one in charge of Racing is this foolish.
Forget the fact that he actually said that he was going to use the £250,000 donated by Betfair to the Horseman’s Group to support the strike, according to the Racing Post, which seems to me to be rather curious when you consider that it is Racing’s misguided obsession with “exchanges” that the strike is, in part, against. Instead, let’s take a step back.
Racing, currently, gets paid a percentage of bookmakers’ profits. They may not like it, but at the time they struck the deal, they were keen. Equally, they may forget it now, but there were, at the time, good reasons why it made sense. Indeed, with the paucity of leadership that is currently being offered, they may have forgotten what those reasons are; but they can be explained in due course if anyone really cares.
But all that being forgotten, the fact remains: they get paid a percentage of bookmakers’ profits. So to call for the “maximum harm” to be exerted on bookmakers is to call for a percentage of the “maximum harm” to be exerted on racing. This, from one of the people “leading” the sport.
A while ago, I asked if Bob Crow was leading racing. Even though I suffered at the man’s hands today, I concede that I did him an injustice. Surely, the time to call for “maximum harm” to be exerted on bookmakers would be after you’ve secured a deal by which you get paid whether they do well or badly; not when you are affected by their level of profitable success?
No matter: I heard while I was in Florida that this winter is predicted to be the coldest in England for a thousand years. Apparently, the Jet Stream has moved slightly to the West, and it has narrowed a bit. As a result, England will experience a winter more in line with its latitude, which puts us on a par with Canada and Russia.
If that turns out to be the case, Racing will not need to strike, because it will be all off anyway. It’s not easy to ascertain from the web how many days they spend racing in Moscow annually, but having lived there for a year when I was studying Russian, I can assure you it wouldn’t be very many. You have your strike created by Divine Intervention, Paul: there will be a lot of days’ racing this winter which won’t happen. But when the bookmakers replace them with other things that they don’t have to give away part of their profits on; and when, next year, they decide that it was less of a headache to profit to the tune of 90% on a different product which they can promote without an annual fight, don’t defend yourself to your members that you never worked it out…
To be honest, ten days on a beach in glorious weather made me wonder whether it was even worth bothering to return to the blog. I no longer have, as Paul Struthers put it on Twitter, “mi££ions of reasons” to put the view regarded as the pro-Betfair and anti-Racing position. Perhaps, I mused, it was time to hang up my pen.
But the thing is, it has never been the pro-Betfair position, any more than it has been the anti-Racing one. And neither has it been driven by an economic motive. It is purely and simply an argument being put because I think it has been, and remains, a shame to see a great sport being led up the garden path by a group of “Leaders” who cling to the belief that they are more important to the people who happen (by statute and history) to be the providers of their biggest funding stream (i.e. the bookmakers) than those people are to them.
Unfortunately, they’re wrong, which is why they are losing; and will lose in front of government in the weeks or months to come. I say that with less of a financial incentive in their failure than their own Chairman, and without an axe to grind. I am, these days, nothing more than an observer of their folly – folly that it seems the current crop will not recognise in time to save their sport. Sadly, that means that either they must go; or it will.