BALLARAT’S racing fraternity will be looking on with interest at an inquiry launched yesterday into alleged race fixing.
In recent years, Ballarat has staked a claim to becoming a regional racing industry hub with significant investment in new facilities and opportunities through Ballarat Turf Club and the University of Ballarat.
The industry’s success locally and on a broader scale has been built on a commitment to improving training for employees and on improving its commitment to stamping out illegal behaviour.
For an industry which has faced constant challenges in stamping out illegal activity, it hasn’t be an easy task.
The latest claims of race fixing will only heighten perceptions.
Victoria’s Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna yesterday stated he did not believe there was widespread integrity issues in Victoria’s racing industry.
His inquiry will look at allegations across codes but does not have the power to view police evidence and has no coercive powers that would allow him to compel anyone to attend his inquiry. The inquiry will be completely in-camera and witnesses will not be under oath.
In essence, if Mr Perna does not find wrongdoing, the scepticism will remain from quarters which are already questioning the process.
The media organisations which are also investigating race-fixing claims say police have already uncovered multiple cases of illegal activity, above and beyond the case central to the investigation, where leading jockey Danny Nikolic has been implicated in relation to a race at Cranbourne in April.
Nikolic has denied any involvement in race fixing.
The truth needs to be uncovered as there is much more at stake than just the reputations of individuals involved.
The good work undertaken by racing authorities and, in turn, leaders of the industry in developing centres such as Ballarat, in recent years stands to be tainted if widespread issues are found.
The public doesn’t want, or expect, a witch-hunt. What it wants is evidence that the industry can self-manage its challenges and to ensure that punters have a level playing field.
The inquiry will be vital in selling this message. It must produce results or the suspicion will be that the bad old days have never really gone away.