References to dog racing removed as concession for Marsa racetrack is approved

Parliament’s National Audit Office Accounts committee has unanimously approved the transfer of a tract of land to the Marsa Race Track Limited consortium

The concession agreement was approved by parliament National Audit Office Accounts committee on Wednesday
The concession agreement was approved by parliament National Audit Office Accounts committee on Wednesday

References to dog racing have been removed from a concession agreement that will see land in Marsa transferred to a consortium that will be developing a multi-million Euro racetrack complex, following opposition by Nationalist Party MPs sitting on the committee.

The transfer was approved by parliament’s National Audit Office Accounts committee on Wednesday and will see Marsa Race Track Limited granted a 65-year concession which will generate an estimated €1 million in revenue for the government.

During today’s sitting, a number of amendments were made to the agreement, including a provision preventing the transfer of shares in the consortium within the first four years without the government’s approval, assurances that registration fees will not be determined by the operators, as well as free parking for horse owners. 

No reason to introduce dog racing

MPs Ryan Callus and Mario De Marco told the committee that while Malta had a long horse racing tradition, there was no such tradition with dog racing.

“Once there is no dog racing tradition, we would be introducing something there are reservations about for no particular reason,” De Marco said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Clifton Grima, who is overseeing negotiations between the involved parties and stakeholders, noted that this had been included in the request for proposals but said government had no objections to the removal of any references to dog racing. 

The committee then heard Daryl Grima from the Malta Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (MSPCA), who said that the organization had only found out about the plans two days ago.  

The introduction of the sport, he said, would have a detrimental effect on thousands of dogs in Malta. He explained that only a small proportion of dogs bred in puppy mills are good enough to be race dogs.

READ MORE: Marsa racetrack privatisation will see consortium pay €1 million yearly

“About one in 20 dogs are normally chosen which means that we will end up filling the country with dogs and problems that organisations like the MSPCA would have to deal with,” Grima said, adding that these dogs tend to be abandoned or killed.

Moreover, he said that dogs that do participate in races tend to suffer from various injuries which often lead to them being killed. Dogs are only considered to be good enough for racing for about two years.

He also raised concerns about the fact that such dogs often spent hours in dark warehouses.

Finally, Grima noted that it was absurd for Malta to be considering the introduction of the sport given that the trend worldwide was that the practice was being banned.

He pointed to Florida, which he said had recently banned the practice.

“This is not a sport but is considered cruelty,” he said, insisting that every report the MSPCA had seen had taken a position against the practice.

“The Maltese love dogs, we are going to ensure that people are made aware of this because we are sure that they would definitely not allow dogs to end up in this situation.”

Agreement reached between consortium and Marsa Polo Club

During the last meeting, the Opposition had insisted that an agreement be reached between the consortium and the Marsa Polo Club regarding the use of the racecourse by the polo club, with De Marco insisting that an agreement should be reached before the concession was granted.

While there was initially some disagreement regarding when the polo club would be allowed to use the facilities, it was eventually decided that the consortium would allow the polo club to use the pitch on Mondays Wednesdays and Saturdays from the 1 September to 15 June – the period during which the polo season runs.

The polo club will have to inform the operators six months in advance and will be obliged to forfeit the use of the pitch on 12 days during this period, provided that this is exchanged for another day.   

‘Prize money increase not substantial enough’

According to the agreement the new operator was binding itself to increasing prize money awarded to jockeys by 10% in the first year, with a further 3% annual increase each subsequent year.

Callus however said he still felt that the increase was not substantial enough and proposed a 50% increase in the first year and a 10% increase for each year after that. He insisted that the commercial side of the project - which he said the PN was not against - would mean that a substantial increase in prize money would be financially viable.  

He noted that the lease agreement in question was one that would last 65 years, meaning that horse owners needed to ensure that their interests were safeguarded.

However, Grima said he had met horse owners and the chairman of the Marsa Racing Club yesterday and they had agreed on the increases he had proposed. This was confirmed by Edwin Borg, the club’s chairman.

READ MORE: PM says ‘no go zone’ Marsa racecourse to get €18 million facelift

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