Cover image courtesy of Racing Photos
The final day of the ARC saw some interesting points raised, with thought-provoking discussions on integrity and opportunities to expand the sport through novel technologies. And, at the closing ceremony on Friday evening it was announced that Japan will host the 40th ARC in Sapporo in 2024.
As one of the final speakers on Thursday, Beyond Blue founder Jeff Kennett told delegates that we should remind ourselves to be grateful for life every morning we wake up. So, it was a truly poignant beginning to Andrew Harding’s address on Friday morning when he paid tribute to a great Australian racing personality, Deane Lester, who passed away on Thursday evening.
Asian Racing Federation Secretary General and Executive Director, Racing, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Harding’s address headlined a morning discussion on the threat posed to racing by organised crime and illegal (or black market) betting.
“We are a sardine in a swimming pool full of sharks,” he told the conference, adding that the growth in illegal betting globally, not just in horse racing, is outstripping the growth in the legal market - and that the effect on racing has already been decisive in some cases.
“There are jurisdictions in this room which once had flourishing domestic racing scenes, but now are struggling because of the scale of the illegal market,” he said.
“There are jurisdictions in this room which once had flourishing domestic racing scenes, but now are struggling because of the scale of the illegal market.” - Andrew Harding
Harding pointed to progress made since the issue was first raised seriously at the 36th Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai in 2016 through; Rigorously academic assessments of the problem itself; making connections with international authorities; and offering education and advice to government agencies.
Former Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission CEO, Michael Phelan gave the conference an overview of the criminal world from a racing perspective, and although far from claiming that corruption is endemic to the sport, the depths to which he explained that criminal activity can (and has done in the past) perpetrate was a little startling.
The criminal world as it pertains to racing, Phelan explained, is often interconnected with other sports as the perpetrators trade in inside information and simply translate their modus operandi to any sphere in which they can capitalise, and he said that 'undesireable racehorse owners' remain a problem in Australia.
“There are still entrenched domestic syndicates who cultivate sports personalities because there’s dollars to be made,” he said.
“There are still entrenched domestic syndicates who cultivate sports personalities because there’s dollars to be made.” - Andrew Harding
Phelan’s warning was that this method involving the extortion of our insiders has been well-honed by the criminals who, for instance, target young jockeys. He said that the whole thing can be linked to the black markets, as they seek to draw people in and entrap them in the murky world of betting outside of regulations and borrowing money.
One point Phelan made which might reassure Australians is that participants are far more vulnerable to such exploitation when they’re not paid so well. However, he also argued that the implications of uncovering scandals are worse when racehorses are involved, citing Damion Flower’s conviction for cocaine smuggling.
“If the authorities publicly seize a Lamborghini, it does no damage to the reputation of Lamborghini, if anything it might even enhance it,” he said.
“If they own a racehorse, it’s the gift that keeps on taking - you’re going to keep hearing about it for months and years.
“In this case, for example, Damion Flower was still owning racehorses up to three years after his arrest. Not for Racing NSW’s lack of trying, it’s just that the system didn’t allow them to take those horses away.”
Following on from his insightful and compelling introduction to Web 3.0 on Wednesday, tech entrepreneur and former South China Morning Post CEO Gary Liu kicked off proceedings on the third day of the ARC.
Picking up where he left off, he outlined how racing should empower the behaviours shown already by Gen Z.
“The next generation are going to spend a significant amount of their time in the digital world, and their resources are going to follow them there,” Liu said.
“Their digital identities are going to be more important to them than their real-life identities.
“If we, as corporate leaders, as industry leaders, do not help facilitate those (new) communities, we will be increasingly left behind.”
After a brief rundown of the blockchain technology which underpins cryptocurrencies - essentially a decentralised ledger - Liu told delegates that they shouldn’t be too concerned about last year’s tumultuous events surrounding the technology.
“If we, as corporate leaders, as industry leaders, do not help facilitate those (new) communities, we will be increasingly left behind.” - Gary Liu
Explaining that there are two types of crypto, money and tech, he warned against conflating them. Crashes in money crypto, including the heavily publicised collapse of FTX last November, Liu said, led to people associating the fraudulent behaviour of FTX owner Sam Bankman-Fried with the whole technology.
“Unfortunately, bad actors in one world have impacted the reputation of the other,” Liu said.
Liu outlined how non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will be at the heart of how racing can benefit from the technology.
“An NFT is essentially a certificate which authenticates ownership,” he said, explaining that the authenticity is validated by the blockchain. He used the example of ZED Run, a digital horseracing platform, to show that this is already showing promise.
“The really interesting thing about ZED Run is not just that it’s sustained, but that it’s created a community-driven cottage industry… They’re not the only ones trying it (either).”
An informative speech from Joan Norton of Cricket Australia detailed how NFTs have been used to great success (and provided excellent profit for the governing body) in her sport.
A former equine internal medicine specialist who spent a great deal of time working in racing in the US, Norton drew inspiration from the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States to persuade her colleagues to try the technology.
As the owner of all the sport’s replays, the NBA sells short highlight clips of exciting pieces of play as NFTs. Whilst the replays can still be watched by all, each passage of play given to an NFT can now be traded by its owner, and it’s been remarkably successful.
“With that ownership piece, it allows fans to own a slice of the game they love. We have a really rich history, and we have hundreds of hours of digitised content,” she said, inferring that horseracing too has ownership of its historical and momentous highlights that may be ripe, low-hanging fruit.
“With that ownership piece, it allows fans to own a slice of the game they love. We have a really rich history, and we have hundreds of hours of digitised content.” - Joan Norton
“Get into the space, lean in. It doesn’t have to be a massive project that involves hundreds of NFTs,” was her conclusion.
Whilst there were some concerns raised in the ensuing panel discussion about the effects of non-physical participation in our sport, Liu likened it to viewing an artefact in a museum.
He argued that, rather than detracting from in-person participation, NFT-based involvement can offer two benefits: firstly, it generates interest which can develop into more involved participation; and secondly, it allows access to those who could never feasibly enjoy it in person.
A call for diversity
British racing broadcaster Josh Apiafi was amongst the final speakers at the conference and delivered some cutting messages on diversity in racing, and some of the approaches for attracting younger audiences set out by others during the conference.
“I’m here to tell you that it’s too late. We’ve got to start much earlier,” he said, arguing that it’s when they’re 12 or 13 years old that the youth land on their life passions.
“The last thing we need is parents designing an engagement strategy for teenagers; we need teenagers to do it,” he said.
“Diversity and inclusion has hardly been mentioned this week, and it’s a huge part of engaging Gen Z,” he said, adding that if diversity is not seen to be represented, racing will not attract people from different ethnic backgrounds. He pointed out that an advertising video for The Everest played earlier in the week failed to include a single non-white person.