The South African born Mike Rishworth, first Chief Executive Officer of Mauritian Racing History, has left the country last Sunday. The former professional of many South African top racing entities came to the island in a bid to boost the Mauritian racing industry before resigning from his position hours before the Annual General Assembly of the MTC back in March. In an email sent exclusively to our Racing Desk, he takes a look at the state of our racing industry with a critical eye.
Thoroughbred horseracing in Mauritius is at a crossroads. The industry has entered a cycle of decline (The Low road) and it must be allowed to implement international best practice industry initiatives, to embrace technology, to re-invent itself and to grow on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all stakeholders (The High Road).
THE LOW ROAD
The coronavirus pandemic along with recent uncontrollable revenue losses has forced the horseracing industry to enter a cycle of decline. The first sign of this was when the necessity arose in 2019 for the MTC to reduce stakes money. This unfortunately had to be repeated in 2020. It is common knowledge throughout the racing industry that stakes money paid to the owners of winning and placed horses is the lifeblood of horseracing. The level of prize money paid is also directly proportional to the level of integrity of the sport. These stake money decreases have resulted
in all stakeholders having to carry the financial burden of an ailing industry. In my view this trend will continue unless the industry can get back onto the “high road”.
Racing’s physical infrastructure has deteriorated significantly. Training centres and training tracks are less than adequate, buildings are in urgent need of renovation and many capital assets need to be replaced as a matter of urgency. Racing’s infrastructure was also designed for the industry in by-gone years and is no longer fit for purpose.
The consequences of these factors, and numerous others, will be devastating for the industry and could result in it being brought to its knees in the short to medium term. Without Government support to enable the introduction of international best practice initiatives and their agreement to amend legislation to enable these vital changes to take place, professional racing as we know it is firmly on the low road and will continue on this path until its final demise.
THE HIGH ROAD
The “High Road” scenario will require extensive Government collaboration and regulatory approvals to allow the industry to generate income in ways that are standard practice to the horseracing industry worldwide. Horseracing operators predominantly rely on 4 major income streams to sustain their business.
l Betting revenue (By far the largest contributor)
l Sale of intellectual property rights. (Data)
l Sale of the television picture.
l Sponsorship and advertising.
All four of the above initiatives require collaboration with the GRA/Government since currently racing has little or no control over betting revenue and has no latitude to introduce new initiatives to stimulate revenue growth. The exploitation of intellectual property rights is not permitted by law and rather than being income generating, racing pays the MBC to broadcast its television picture. Sponsorship revenue is also materially negatively affected as a result of betting companies not being able to sponsor horse racing.
In December 2020 the President of the Mauritius Turf Club, Kamal Taposeea, and I were called to a meeting with the PMO and various other Government Ministries where we were most encouraged to learn that the Government of Mauritius had recognised that major intervention was necessary in order to get the horse racing industry back on the “high road”. A series of 7 meetings ensued over a 2-month period and by mid-February 2021 all parties had agreed on the following guiding principles as a basis for further negotiations.
New racecourse: The existing racecourse and training facilities, being outdated, needed to be replaced with a new modern racecourse and a consolidated training centre with state-of-the-art facilities and potential for other leisure activities.
National Tote/Bookmaker Licence: There would be a national tote with the commingling with international pools permitted. Fixed odds betting on football could also form part of the MTC’s bet offering going forward.
Separation of Powers: An independent Horse Racing Body would be set up under the GRA and would be responsible for regulatory and governance functions of horse racing.
Integrity of horse racing and crack down on illegal betting: Major emphasis to be placed on these two essential elements of a successful horse racing industry.
Democratisation: The shareholding of the company holding the horse racing organiser licence will be democratised. No individual will be permitted to own more than 5% of the shares in the new company.
Financial sustainability: The company in question will operate like any other profit-making company.
It is worth noting that all guiding principles were communicated to the membership of the MTC by way of a presentation made by MTC’s consultants, Ernst & Young, at the club’s annual general meeting held on 5th March 2021.
The fact that all parties had reached agreement on the above guiding principles was perceived to be a giant step in the right direction. It was also agreed that the implementation of the agreed strategy to rejuvenate the industry was urgent. All the while, it was clearly understood that any agreement reached would ultimately have to be approved by the members of the Mauritius Turf Club.
As word got out that negotiations were underway many rumours and incorrect facts were reported in the media and “idle chatter” amongst stakeholders sought to destroy the process. Many commentators expressed grave reservations about possible Government involvement in the horse racing industry going forward.
The facts of the matter are that nothing conclusive had been agreed, however cordial and constructive negotiations were underway and significant progress was being made. For those sceptics of the process that was underway, it must always be remembered that whether the Government is involved as a shareholder in the new company that holds the race organiser licence, or not, the new company will always have to operate within the bounds of the GRA Act. The nature of the act is such that the Government will always have significant regulatory control over the horse racing industry whether they are a shareholder or not.
The need to introduce major reforms to the horse racing industry is not negotiable. The abovementioned guiding principles must form the basis for further discussions. Without resurrecting these critical discussions and ultimately concluding a mutually beneficial cocktail of the above guiding principles the racing industry cannot start to move towards a cycle of revitalisation as depicted in the illustration below. I am of the opinion that with the right regulatory environment racing could contribute as much as 2.5% to the national GDP, employ up to 3,000 people and contribute Rs1 billion, and more, to the Mauritian fiscus within 3 years. In addition, much needed foreign capital can be introduced to the country through international initiatives.
I am firmly of the opinion that the racing industry and the Government must find a long-term solution that will ensure the future of racing for many more generations. Without this, the eventual outcome for racing could be catastrophic.
Please note that the statement ABOVE is personal in nature and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Mauritius Turf Club or MTC Sports & Leisure Limited.
Source : https://www.lexpress.mu/node/3948611347