Racing Victoria (RV) on Wednesday issued the following statement in response to Wednesday's publication by Racing Integrity Commissioner Sean Carroll (RIC) of his “Report of Own Motion Inquiry under Section 37B(1)(g) of the Racing Act 1958 into the conduct of Stewards and withdrawal of charges against Richard Laming, Marnu Potgieter and MD Zeyaur Rahman by RV on 25 February 2021”.
RV is responsible under the Racing Act 1958 for overseeing the integrity of thoroughbred racing in Victoria through the administration of the Rules of Racing. The role of RIC is to provide independent oversight of integrity within all three racing codes and to enable public confidence in the integrity of the Victorian Racing Industry (VRI).
Integrity is vital to the ongoing success and viability of Victorian racing and is a non-negotiable in RV’s strategic framework. Ensuring the highest standards of integrity is, and will always remain, a primary objective of RV.
RV wishes to acknowledge the work of RIC comprised in the Report and the valuable insights the Report has afforded the RV Board and Management, particularly in respect of opportunities for the future development of its Integrity Services team.
RV welcomes the Report’s findings that “RV has significant competence, expertise and capability in the performance of equine and raceday integrity functions”.
RV’s Integrity Services team works tirelessly in its efforts to police the Rules of Racing and ensure a level playing field for all competitors in over 4,300 races annually. The work of Integrity Services – whilst rewarding – can be very challenging, and RV is thankful for the team’s enormous and incredibly important contribution to Victorian racing.
RV notes that RIC’s findings are consistent with the investigative work by RV in its March 2021 review of the conduct of Stewards Dion Villella and Mark Stevens in the Laming Matter. The result of RV’s review was disciplinary action against Mr Villella, who was relieved of his position as Manager of the Compliance Assurance Team, counselled for his conduct, and is undertaking additional education and training.
RIC found that Mr Villella had initiated contact with Mr Stevens during the Victorian Racing Tribunal (VRT) hearing because he was “motivated by misplaced self-doubt” under cross examination, and that he was not seeking to influence Mr Stevens’ evidence.
RV further notes RIC’s finding that he was “unable to identify any evidence to support any other allegations of wrongdoing by the Stewards”.
Acting on the advice of its external senior barristers, RV withdrew the charges against Messrs Laming, Potgeiter and Rahman after being alerted by Mr Stevens to the contact initiated by Mr Villella. RIC affirmed in his Report that this interaction was the catalyst for the withdrawal.
RV also notes the Report’s recommendations identifying opportunities to enhance and continuously improve its ‘non-race’ integrity functions.
RV will now work closely with RIC, the Victorian Racing Integrity Board and, where appropriate, VRI partners Harness Racing Victoria and Greyhound Racing Victoria, to give effect to each of the Report’s recommendations. This will also include consultation with the State Government in respect of any potential necessary changes to the Racing Act 1958 which establishes and sets out the functions of the VRT for the VRI.
Reflective of its commitment to best practice, RV has this afternoon formally written to the VRT and the legal representative for Messrs Laming, Potgeiter and Rahman in accordance with the Report’s first recommendation.
A number of the other recommendations in the Report are also well progressed by RV, which had otherwise identified similar continuous improvement opportunities and had been undertaking this work in the ordinary course. RV will provide RIC with ongoing updates in respect of this work and all of the Report’s recommendations.
In closing, RV notes the importance of maintaining customer and participant confidence in the sport and reaffirms its commitment to ensure that any lessons from the Laming Matter are used by RV to continue to strengthen and enhance Victorian racing.