Protest march planned as Turf Club stands firm


The Turf Club, Irish racing's regulatory body, yesterday took off the gloves and described the Government's plans for doing away with most of the Turf Club's historic role as "the players becoming the referee."

The feud between the Turf Club and the rest of racing is coming to the boil with a cross-association industry group planning to march on the Turf Club headquarters tomorrow morning.

"We need to show the Turf Club members where we stand. The undemocratic and elitist actions of the Turf Club stewards are downright scandalous," the owners association chairman Peter McCarthy said.

But the Turf Club, who are being asked by the Government to merge into one ruling body in return for legislation guaranteeing permanent funding for the sport, are determined to hold their ground.

Yesterday their chief executive insisted the issue is a question of principle rather than finance.

"We are well aware of the desire of the industry to get more money and everyone else's issues have been addressed. But the Turf Club is dealing in terms of principle rather than finance," Brian Kavanagh said yesterday.

"The Turf Club is not against the proposed HorseRacing Ireland. In fact we invented HRI and the concept of a unity body. But the implementation of the rules has to be separate.

"The principle of the rules being implemented by an independent body is accepted by most people. Otherwise there could be a conflict in the regulation of any industry. The referee has to be separate from the players.

"The Minister and his officials want to transfer functions such as handicapping, entries and declarations and possibly dope testing from the Turf Club. That is very basic stuff.

"Our absolute concern is that the rules must be ring-fenced. The Turf Club is well aware of the desire for extra money but the proposed money is coming from betting so the main concern of everyone has to be to keep the game straight. That is consistent with our aims," Kavanagh said.

The Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh has stated he hopes the proposed new board of the HRI should "be firmly in the hands of those who have a very strong economic interest, those whose livelihoods depend on the industry to a significant degree."

Walsh has described negotiations between his Department and the Turf Club as being at an impasse and there is concern that, with Minister McCreevy's Budget looming, the proposed financial boost will not happen.

The Government view is that the increase in the state financial injection means there is a greater premium on public accountability and therefore reinforces the need for racing to have just one ruling body.

But Kavanagh retorted yesterday: "The stewards are asking the question about what difference there is in accountability between £18 million and £34 million? The Government are giving £18 million at present, with the current structures in place, and are happy with that."

The Turf Club has experienced criticism for its lack of public comment on the matter but Kavanagh insisted yesterday that was due to an agreement with the Department of Agriculture.

"We agreed to a request that the matter not be debated in public and we have done that for honourable reasons. The Department have made certain announcements and if that's the way they want to do it, then so be it. But it has been suggested that a meeting last Wednesday broke up because the Turf Club walked away. In fact it was Department officials who ended the meeting," he said.

Before the march happens tomorrow morning, there is an Irish Horseracing Authority meeting scheduled for today where it will consider what it should do to next year's racing budget if the Government plan isn't implemented.