Kerry greyhound racing received a major blow following an Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) decision to axe three race meetings at Kingdom Greyhound Stadium, reducing its schedule from 16 to 13 meetings a month.
The fixtures will now be relocated to tracks in Cork and Limerick.
The move is being criticised by owners and trainers who say they were not given prior notification of the decision, saying it is unfair to Kingdom Greyhound Stadium given its popularity and reputation as a major fundraising venue.
In its statement, the IGB said high demand from dog pools throughout Ireland made it necessary for fixtures to be amended to keep racing schedules and to accommodate current demand, which was exacerbated by a three-month suspension in racing due to COVID-19. Greyhound owner and trainer Paul O'Connor is Chairperson of the Kingdom Greyhound Stadium Advisory Council, and he said IGB's move will impact around 33 percent of the commercial viability and productivity of Kingdom Greyhound Stadium, and he accused the IGB of centralising greyhound racing by taking fixtures out of Kerry and relocating them in the cities.
"This is going to have a massive impact on the town of Tralee. It works out at about 180 dogs less a month that will be racing; that equates to around 100 people or more that go to Tralee in any given month that is being taken away from the track," Paul said. Mr O'Connor described Kingdom Greyhound Stadium as a 'flagship track' for promoting live SIS racing around the globe, adding the fixture losses will reduce an owner's chances of showcasing dogs for sale.
He added the move would not benefit the welfare of greyhounds in the long-term.
"If these greyhounds aren't being run on Friday and Saturday nights, and these fundraisers are not being held, what is going to happen to the greyhounds that don't run?" he said.
"A greyhound in training needs to be run every seven to 10 days to stay healthy. You can't tell a greyhound you're racing this week and not the next. If it no longer becomes a viable industry, what happens to these dogs?
"The track is a huge benefit to tourism and any facility for tourism is a great thing. This is set to happen in the next two weeks. They are cutting marquee nights. We have sought a lot of political representation, and we're hoping the IGB will reverse this decision.
"It's a decision that impacts Kerry on many levels. We don't need this to happen in the current climate and all that our economy is struggling with," Mr O'Connor said.
The IGB said it is 'very constrained' from a financial perspective due to loss of commercial revenues and ongoing restrictions in capacity due to COVID-19 requirements, but it had retained prize-money for ordinary race meetings at pre-COVID levels.
Lastly, IGB added that it is conscious that a reduction in race schedules in Tralee will cause 'some concern locally', but the decision is being made to sustain activity throughout the industry at what is a very difficult period.