When bureaucrats are on the same page, great things can happen

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am

If there were two points most notable about the reversal of the ban on horses travelling to Japan's Yasuda Kinen, those were the co-operation of the Japan Racing Association (JRA) and of the Hong Kong government. The latter, of course, might have been presumed as obvious and part of the normal course of things but that presumption might not have been accurate.

Despite the Jockey Club's standing as the Special Administrative Region's biggest taxpayer and provider to charity, there has often seemed to be a slightly strained relationship going on. Sure, the two entities need to work together, but they speak from alternative points of view and in different tongues.

One only has to look back as recently as the tax reforms - reforms likely to bring a 5.5 per cent turnover increase in season one - to see what a tough slog negotiations between the two could be. The issue was batted back and forth for years before a set of, admittedly watered-down, tax changes was passed, allowing the Jockey Club to make more flexible business decisions. There were times when it seemed opposition to the reforms in government might even be enough to see it falter - opposition probably no more specific than the fact that this was the Jockey Club and a business involving betting. In the end, what was approved is working but only at half power due to the legislative obstacles placed in the club's way.

To see the government enter the fray to help undo a sporting knot like the Japanese quarantine compromise was pleasing. When government people talk to each other they are at least on the same bureaucratic page, so there's a better chance of success than when bureaucrats talk to sports administrators. It's pleasing, and encouraging for the near future, because there's no doubt that other issues - starting with commingling of betting pools across borders - will require more government co-operation if they are to function properly.

As for the JRA, its co-operation for something which was to ensure its prestigious international race did not sink back to being domestic-only might have been thought obvious and natural. But such an assumption might not be accurate either.

The JRA is a government entity under the aegis of the same Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which was trying to enforce the travel ban. So the JRA was trying to talk the 'boss' into a change of mind, never easy in any culture and certainly not in Japan's hierarchical society. But at least the JRA had evidence of Hong Kong's strong backing for the recent promotion of the Japanese to part one of the international stud classifications - a move with serious significance for the Japanese bloodstock industry - to prove that Hong Kong was in fact a good neighbour.

The last time Japan had to make a change on a quarantine ruling of this kind was when Fairy King Prawn was to return to Tokyo in 2001 to defend his Yasuda Kinen.

At that time, it was a foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain which the Japanese Department of Agriculture and Fisheries used to block Hong Kong horses from entering.

The decision was eventually overturned as much by trainer Ivan Allan's force of personality as any other reason, as he waged a campaign of public information which virtually embarrassed the Japanese into a change of heart. Alas, Fairy King Prawn could finish only ninth.

This time there were no screaming headlines, no embarrassing hypocrisies revealed and we're sure both the JRA and Japanese government preferred how it all went down.