The government was ready to step in to regulate the horse racing industry if it failed to do so itself, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has said in response to rising complaints.
Deputy director-general Zodwa Ntuli said yesterday that any intervention would follow due process.
“I must indicate that as government we have received requests from the industry that horse racing in its entirety requires government to intervene and regulate. Currently, we regulate the betting part of the industry as it constitutes gambling, but other aspects remain self-regulated.”
Ntuli was responding to accusations that the industry was resistant to transformation, a call that has been made repeatedly by the SA Grooms Association and Phindi Kema, a racehorse breeder and activist in the industry.
Grooms have said they shared sleeping space with horses, were paid R30 a day and were abused by trainers.
Currently, the industry regulates itself through the National Horseracing Authority (NHA), which it funds. That has raised eyebrows from the corporate governance point of view
“The fundamental principle in regulation is that government only intervenes when there is a clear failure,” Ntuli said.
Denzil Pillay, the chief executive of the NHA, said he had not been approached about the facilitation process. He said he would not comment further until he knew what was in the government’s mind.
Ntuli said the department would issue a draft policy document in which the public and the industry would have an opportunity to make submissions.
According to the website of Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, the biggest horse racing operator out of two in the country, the industry plays an important role in South Africa’s economy and creates employment for about 100 000 people. Race meetings are held 364 days a year and annual betting turnover is more than R7 billion.
Ntuli said that if the government decided to regulate, it would regulate on the terms and framework of the government after consulting with all stakeholders.
“It will not mean that government will merely legitimise a self-regulatory structure that exists, such as the NHA, and make it part of the framework. Our job is not merely to put a stamp on a structure in the industry but to ensure regulation addresses the dynamic challenges of the industry.”
She said the other issue that had been raised was the lack of transformation and alleged abusive conduct towards grooms. “This issue of abusive conduct, if true, is unacceptable and cannot be condoned in this democratic dispensation.
We are particularly concerned about the allegations made by grooms that they are being abused, even to the point of being assaulted.
“We urge grooms to also report such conduct to the police as this country has laws against this.”
In September last year, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies promised to put together a team of facilitators to assist the horse racing industry to transform.
Ntuli said the dti had completed the process of appointing the facilitator with experience in facilitating the resolution of disputes, especially ones that had labour relations aspects.
“We have consulted the industry about this, including NHA. We expect the dispute to be resolved soon. We impress on the parties to engage in a bona fide manner, as it is in everyone’s interest that we work together.
“The aspect of transformation in general in gambling will be our focus as government because all industries should ensure that previously disadvantaged persons enter the industry and become economically active. Revised broad-based black economic empowerment must be complied with, and government will monitor this closely.”