It is fair to say that greyhound racing has been through a tough time in recent decades, with the struggles of the sport seeing a swathe of track closures up and down the United Kingdom. To say the sport has declined since the heyday of the 1940s is something of an understatement. During the post-war boom years, the UK boasted 77 officially licenced tracks and over 200 independent tracks. Fast forward to 2023, and those numbers have decreased to just 20 official tracks and two independently operated venues.
The catalogue of now-defunct courses makes for pretty extensive reading and of the home nations, it has largely been left to England to keep the sport going. Following the closure of Shawfield, Scotland now has just one track – the unregulated venue of Thornton Greyhound Stadium in Fife – and the situation in Wales is very similar. Home to over 20 tracks at one time or another, that number now stands at just one – the unofficial Valley Stadium in Ystrad Mynach. This is a sad state of affairs for greyhound fans in Wales, and one which may be about to become even worse, as the future of Valley Stadium appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Petition Gathers Momentum
The cause for the concerns surrounding the future of Valley Stadium began with a petition entitled “Ban Greyhound Racing in Wales”, which reads as follows:
In Wales we have one independent greyhound track racing once a week. Since April 2018, Hope Rescue and their rescue partners have taken in almost 200 surplus greyhounds from this track, 40 of which sustained injuries. There are plans for the track to become a Greyhound Board of Great Britain track, racing four times a week, greatly increasing the number of surplus dogs and injuries. Greyhound racing is inherently cruel and greyhounds have little legal protection. It is already banned in 41 US states.
Vanessa Waddon, head of Hope Rescue, further outlined the rationale and feeling behind the petition when stating, “We need the Welsh Government to put a stop to this cruel sport. One injury and one death is too much. The reason we are calling for a ban is that we don’t feel that regulation has worked in the rest of the UK.”
In Wales, a petition needs at least 10,000 signatures to be considered by the Petitions committee for a parliamentary debate. The “Ban Greyhound Racing in Wales” petition attracted 35,101 signatures before being closed.
Late in 2022, the announcement came that, following consideration, the petition would now move forward for debate, with the majority of Petition Committee members backing the petition’s proposals. Committee Chair Jack Sargeant stated:
So today the Petitions Committee in the Senedd are launching their report into Greyhound racing in Wales. This was supported by a majority of committee members. I believe it’s got the support of the majority of the Welsh Parliament too… and it certainly has the support of me as Chair of the Senedd Petitions Committee. The report will now (go) to the Welsh Government. They will reply in the new year and we will debate the issue here in the heart of the Welsh Democracy. This report was all about the greyhounds in Wales. This is an important step forward. And of course, we will report back in the new year.
Owner Disputes Claims
Of course, there are two sides to every story. Greyhound fans in the area are no doubt against the proposals of this popular track, which reopened to sell-out crowds upon the relaxing of restrictions in 2021. Track owner Malcolm Tams – a man with 50 years of experience in the industry – has also been quick to leap to the track’s defence.
Tams first highlighted the potential negative economic impact of closing the track, “We create a number of jobs here which would be lost if this greyhound racing was banned”. Those behind the petition reportedly agree with this assessment.
Tams, however, went further. The track owner questioned the legitimacy of the claims made by the petition, “What concerns me really is when this petition was produced, Hope Rescue made the assertions that they rescued 200 greyhounds from us in a period of time which isn’t correct,” and “It’s been made out that the dogs which have been injured have had to be rehomed and that’s not the case. Most of the time they are treated properly and then can continue as normal.” He also questioned the validity of the signatures contained within it, suggesting that 15,000 of the names on the petition were from people who were not based in England or Wales.
Tams went on to defend the standards at the track, noting that “… we’ve had eight visits by the vets and Caerphilly Council in the last 12 months who say that it is still in good condition.” He then went on to mention that the track had applied to become an officially licenced venue, which would bring a further improvement in standards. This view runs in opposition to the claims made by the petition that becoming a licenced track would make the situation worse.
Alternatives to a Ban
As things stand, supporters of both sides of the argument await the decision of the Welsh Parliament with bated breath. Already a shadow of years gone by, is the fat lady about to sing for greyhound racing in Wales? That is a possibility, but this may not be as simple as deciding whether or not to shut the sport down completely – lesser measures may also be an option. Whilst many within the petition committee were seemingly in support of the ban, it is reported that there was also support for tightening the current regulations as opposed to outright prohibition.
The proposal for regulation rather than a ban was backed by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, with a spokesman for the sport’s governing body stating,
… there are a number of strong alternatives which would allow the sport to continue in a fully regulated environment thus protecting the welfare of dogs, the jobs and livelihoods of those involved in the sport and the revenue contribution the sport makes to the economy. Adopting these would align Wales with the rest of the country.
2022 wasn’t the first time a petition of this nature had reached the parliamentary level. In 2020, a petition containing over 100,000 signatures was presented to the UK Government by The Alliance Against Greyhound Racing, leading to an official debate in March of 2022. Whilst several wellbeing-related rule changes were implemented shortly afterwards, the debate did not directly result in any track closures.
Whether a similar story will unfold for the last track standing in Wales lies in the hands of the Welsh Parliament – a pivotal decision which may determine whether Valley Greyhound Stadium falls off the map, or potentially becomes an officially recognised and licenced track.
Defunct Welsh Tracks
Supporters of the track will certainly be hoping for positive news in the coming months as Valley Greyhound Stadium bids to avoid becoming the final name on the list of Welsh Greyhound tracks that are no longer in operation.
The full list is likely to be more extensive than the 22 venues below, with the full details of several low-key provincial tracks seemingly lost to the sands of time. However, the table does show that the sport has hardly been thriving in Wales for quite some time. Aside from Valley Stadium, no new greyhound track has opened in the country since 1963, whilst the nation has only possessed three tracks for nigh on 30 years, and only Valley Greyhound Stadium since 2009.
|Taff Vale Park||1927||1932|
|Welsh White City Stadium||1928||1937|
|Recreation Ground||1931||Late 30s|
|White City Swansea||1928||1946|
|Jenner Park Stadium||1932||1955|
|Jesmond Dene Stadium||1948||1960s|
|Garth Stadium||1963||Mid-Late 60s|
|Caemawr Greyhound Stadium||Late 50s||Early 70s|
|Cardiff Arms Park||1927||1977|
|Hawthorn Greyhound Track||1932||1970s|
|Skewen Greyhound Stadium||1930s||1994|
|Bedwelty Greyhound Track||1929||2007|
|Swansea Greyhound Stadium||1949||2009|
|Valley Greyhound Stadium||1976||???|
Given the steady decline of the sport, a ban on greyhound racing in Wales would be keenly felt in the Ystrad Mynach region but possibly much less so in the rest of the nation. However, a decision in favour of the petition may encourage activism in other animal sports, such as horse racing (Wales currently boasts two excellent racecourses at Chepstow and Bangor) and may also reignite the debate on greyhound racing in England.