The best laid plans of mice and men. Or maybe a touch too much arrogant assumption? The Competition Commission’s silver bullet in the knee this week for Phumelela’s intended carnival of Cape capers appears to have caught the role-players off sides and a touch red-faced.
Playing Devil’s Advocate on the side-lines, we can only question how the, no doubt, well paid professionals and their advisors slipped up and underestimated, or didn’t see the friendly rubber stamp that evolved into an oncoming bureaucratic train?
The semantic gymnastics aside, it appears that the Competition Commission didn’t savour the thought of Phumelela controlling horseracing in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces. The rejection,or the ‘declined approval’,as Gold Circle’s spin specialists succinctly put it today, is a body blow to horseracing. Time is money and somebody is coughing generously to fund this game of chess between the professional experts and our government. The mere thought of Economists and Attorneys in one room is enough to give anybody the shivers.
Our interest and passion is horses, bloodlines and handicapping. Thus pretending to be legal eagles or economics boffins is a rather silly pursuit that can only end in tears. It is also the first time for many of us that the Competition Commission has crossed our thought paths. It is a body that is probably mostly seen as yet another tastless pretty fruit spawned out of the Constitution of the New South Africa.
In an economic context, predation is a collective term for actions by or strategies of firms aimed at reducing or eliminating competition. The South African Competition Act, Act 89 of 1998 as amended , has as its purpose the promotion and maintenance of competition. To this end Section 8 of the act, termed ‘Abuse of dominance prohibited’, prohibits the act of predation and predatory pricing.
Now that you are suitably impressed, why couldn’t the professionals have forseen that a spanner would be thrown into the works? Cosy arrangements between Gold Circle and Phumelela to break up the troubled marriage of the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal with a smooth happy divorce, and give Phumelela control down South, may have been well intentioned and seen as a solution. But most people do nothing without a motive of profit or gain.
Gold Circle said today from Durban that the new structure would have ‘created a new entrant to the Sport and would, in the submissions of Gold Circle, its lawyers and economists, have benefitted the Sport and its participants.‘ That is a pipe-dream right now and other highly-placed sources are on record as suggesting that the decision is only a ‘minor hiccough’. They underestimate the intelligence of our bureaucrats, they do!
Two independent Analysts quoted in today’s newspapers gave the varying opinions that the negative decision ‘was to be expected as the two entities were already under inverstigation by the commission.’ Another suggested that the decision was ‘unfortunate as it displayed the lack of the regulator’s understanding of the horseracing business.’
Hindsight and all the rest again. But surely the experts saw this coming and weren’t they mandated to ensure that there were no grey areas when it came to the understanding of the unique business model and science of the sport of kings?
Ultimately, we believe that the better good of horseracing will be served with the provincial divorce proceeding and the Cape falling under Phumelela control. The small touches of managerial assertiveness have already been seen in the Cape, while the KwaZulu-Natal family have so much more going for them – including financial strength and a determination to uphold tradition.
Phumelela and Gold Circle in the Western Cape are yet to react in the media. But maybe there are once again just too many unqualified cooks spoiling the broth.