Phumelela’s unhappy, and at times tumultuous, marriage to the sport of horseracing could seemingly well end up in the corporate divorce court after all. And there won’t be many tears shed by the family.
A cautionary announcement published this week by the Board Of Directors of Phumelela Gaming & Leisure alludes to moves to offload horseracing – that being the consensus of opinion of a variety of people canvassed by the Sporting Post to unravel the corporate semantics.
Phumelela currently runs horseracing in South Africa – merrily into the ground, some will say – in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape.
Three of those four centres run at a painful loss. We can blame that on a host of semi legitimate excuses: the dire economic straits that the country is in, the growth of sports betting – but probably most of all on poor management and a lack of foresight and empathy with stakeholders, coupled with a gross absence of comprehension of the traditions and ethos of the sport of kings.
In 1997 the Gauteng Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the racing industry, stipulating that racing and betting in the province would in future be managed by one corporation, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure Ltd.
Our much loved bastion of owner rights and world-class communication, the Racing Association (RA) was established soon after.
Far from being the voice of the owner, that organisation has developed over the years into a one-man show and a bedfellow of the operator. In this happy divorce, the RA could be subpoenaed as a third party – the philandering mistress.
At the establishment of corporatisation, Phumelela said the industry was in dire straits – a fact hotly disputed by industry insiders at the time. The company observed that most major centres were failing to make a profit and public interest was in decline.
But, despite their undertakings to add value, what has followed?
The rape of assets and sale of Gosforth Park in Germiston, Newmarket in Alberton and the Bloemfontein Race Course.
Stakes have not kept pace.
Meetings have been cut and sponsors have been treated with contempt.
The stakes agreement – signed between Phumelela and the RA – is a secret document kept under lock and key for viewing by the privileged few. Stakes are the cornerstone of investment in bloodstock for owners.
If they don’t buy, breeders won’t breed. If there are no horses, punters won’t gamble. It’s a vicious economic circle that requires balancing and steering.
While needs change and sponsor adspend focus can shift, consider that in the Cape, we have lost all of Varsfontein, Maine Chance Farms, Avontuur, Khaya Stables, Kuda, Choice Carriers and Grand Parade Investments as feature sponsors in recent times.
Has anybody bothered to ask them – or even management – why?
Under Phumelela’s management, the Cape Summer Season has shrunk, with the Cape Guineas and Cape Fillies Guineas now being run on the same day.
How does one attract sponsors when they don’t own the day and they get handled like unwelcome visitors to a circus?
Up North, the Summer Cup has also lost its long time brand sponsor, Sansui.
In an industry where communication and transparency are dirty words, nepotism prevails, unholy alliances rule the day and where little intellectual or monetary investment is made in infrastructure or future planning, the writing has long been on the wall.
We need to get the right people involved.
Let’s take back our passion. Take back the Tote. And putting the right people in the right jobs will be a flying start.
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