Sport on TV: Don’t fall into the trap of mixing dogs and drugs

If ever there was a sport that was going to the dogs, it must be greyhound racing

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The Independent Online

If ever there was a sport that was going to the dogs, it must be greyhound racing. And yet it is a £1.5 billion industry with 500 meetings a year. Rick Holloway, chairman of the greyhound trainers trust, says his breed typically lose £3m a year, while the bookies clear a profit of £237m.  It doesn't take much to realise that in this game it's the tail that is wagging the dog.

There were many disturbing aspects of Panorama: Drugs and Money - Dog Racing Undercover (BBC1, Monday) but the overall impression was of a sport in which the dogs mean nothing at all beyond their gambling potential. There are no new tricks being used here - doping, fixing, euthanasia - but it is the callous disregard for the health of the poor beasts on which the sport depends that is shocking. The trainers here are biting the hand that feeds them. And they are getting away with it like a mutt running down the road with a string of sausages in its jaws.

The programme featured a sting operation by campaigning journalist Daniel Foggo on a trainer who revealed how he would routinely "stop" his dogs, make them underperform by giving them the sedative cyclazine, to improve their odds for later races. Or he would "knock over" three runners in a six-dog race by bribing kennel hands of other trainers and thereby sweep up on a tri-cast bet, backing the top three.

Another trainer was found guilty of giving his dogs cocaine and amphetamine but was simply handed a fine and carried on in the business. The party's not over yet.

Then comes the desperately sad end to this shaggy dog story, with an estimated 2,500 hounds being killed when they are retired each year. In 2006 David Smith was found to have destroyed some 10,000 dogs and buried them in his garden in County Durham. The report led to a parliamentary inquiry but it seems nothing has changed. Perhaps there are too many vested interests involved when it comes to running for office.

At least in horseracing, which has been suffered from the same malign influences, there remains a healthy respect for the nags themselves, from the trainers if not the punters. We hear that in spite of the financial wellbeing of greyhound racing, the crowds are now very small at the venues - gamblers never need to set eyes on a wet nose. Couldn't they just play it on an Xbox instead? It's a shame the dogs can't be as fake as the rabbit they are supposed to be pursuing. Meanwhile the authorities are giving a very good impression of chasing their own tail.

Celebrities doing spurious TV travelogues are becoming tedious in the extreme Tom Daley Goes Global was a prime example earlier this year. Now we have Micky Flanagan's Detour de France (Sky One, Monday) in which he and his mate Noel are supposed to replicate the Tour itself. Not a chance, of course - when they check out the famed "Hell of the North" cobbled route from Paris to Roubaix, they only cycle 5km along the bumpy farm tracks. They are presented with a cobble to take home with them, but the camera crew probably have to carry it.

At the start, the comedian (for that is what he is) does at least admit: "What's going to become quite clear to everyone is that the whole thing is a jolly-up." But it's a moot point whether we appreciate his honesty or actually hate the fact he's being so brazen about it. At least our licence fee is not paying for it.

And he does pay a visit to a farm in Belgium that has the highest density of unexploded ordnance in Europe - left over from the First World War. They stand chatting next to a big pile of live shells by the farmer's back door, then go for a walk across the fields while a tractor ploughs deep into the soil. So it's not a completely easy ride.

They also visit the war graves at Ypres, and there is something wrong with the site of a couple of plump middle aged men walking around the cemetery dressed in tight, lurid Lycra. That's stretching the limits of decency to breaking point.

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