Irish Greyhound Racing – why one of Ireland’s oldest pastimes is having to fix its image

Irish greyhound racing has been around since 1927. In April of that year, the first greyhound track opened in Celtic Park and it wasn’t long before more opened.

As it gets closer to its centennial, it’s evident that greyhound racing is still going strong in other parts of the world, as the listings on demonstrate.

But despite this, things do need to change. With constant news stories appearing surrounding the mistreatment of dogs following the RTE revelation, major sponsors have started to pull out. This has left the sport in a compromised position, and it’s not getting any better. 

Read on as we consider how the sport can get back to its heritage without keeping its negative connotations… 

Greyhound racing heritage

For just under 100 years, going to the dogs has been considered a traditional pastime by many Irish families.

It was a chance for people to get together, enjoy the thrill of the race and even put a bet on.

Most importantly, it was a chance for working-class families to enjoy an accessible version of hunting. 

As it gave families the chance to win some leisure money, it quickly became a mainstream event and attendance numbers skyrocketed. Not only this but gambling ‘off-course’ and out of a registered setting was illegal. This made it even more attractive to racegoers. 

The public was happy, politicians were supporting it and huge brand names were backing the events – it felt like nothing could go wrong. But in 1960, it started to. 

Betting and Gaming Act

In 1960, the law changed. Instead of legal gambling only being able to take place on a racecourse, it was legalised in many other areas. The Betting and Gambling Act legalised betting shops, bingo halls and casinos. This drew people away from the dogs and towards the vast variety of alternative entertainment available. 

Changing attitudes

As time moved forward, people were changing their attitudes towards the sport. Poor animal welfare had been slowly revealed over the years which disgusted younger generations. 

Most recently, RTE Investigates have found that 6,000 dogs are culled each year because they simply cannot run fast enough. Because the greyhound industry is breeding 1000% more dogs than they need to, they are having to kill thousands each year. 

While licenced greyhound racing is tightly regulated, many racers have escaped the consequences of their cruel behaviour. 

Lack of sponsorship

Following the public outcry surrounding animal cruelty, the leading sponsors started to pull out. Sponsorship deals in greyhound racing have always been cheap. But with so many sponsors ending their deals at once, it still harmed many racing grounds. 

All is not lost, however, as there could be a future for the sport. 

Online races

Surprisingly, the sport has found renewed interested online. Races are being streamed and viewed by thousands of online betters. Bookies are also broadcasting virtual races for both dogs and horses. 

This has increased the accessibility of greyhound racing and allowed people to effectively visit the races will in their local betting shop or even at home. As a result, the sport has spiked in popularity again.  

Improved animal welfare

Following the news of animal cruelty, more is also being done to protect the greyhounds’ welfare. Re-homing organisations are working tirelessly to ensure dogs get to experience a happy life when they retire instead of being put to sleep. 

On top of this, bookies are also investing in the animal welfare at tracks. They’re working to both provide and maintain high levels of quality care to ensure the sport loses its negative connotations and returns to its rich heritage. 

The combination of renewed interest and improved standards suggest that we could be witnessing a revival in the sport. While it’s changed from being a traditional pastime, it does appear to be fixing its image.

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