I was prompted to reflect on our sport when I read an interview with Willie Mullins the top National Hunt racehorse trainer today. He spoke of his frustration at the failure of the racing authorities to deal swiftly and effectively with a recent case of drugs possession in Ireland and how the episode had put a cloud over the sport just before Cheltenham.
Our own sport has a similar cloud over it since rumours began circulating about possible positive tests at the National meeting at Clonmel. We can still hope that these turn out to be inaccurate, but even if they do, we have no reason for complacency.
The truth is that drug abuse in coursing is endemic and widespread and anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. The fact that there is no drug testing except at Clonmel is widely known and the dopers take full advantage.
I have had many coursing men say to me that they would gladly pay extra in entry fees or club subscriptions to ensure a level playing field and a drug free sport. My suspicion is that the political will from the top down is not there to make this happen.
Tackling this wouldn't be that difficult: a two-man "Flying Squad" possibly ex-Gardai with no coursing connections could be employed to travel the country and descend unnanounced on any trial stake and take random samples. This would be sufficient deterrent to introduce doubt into potential miscreants' minds.
The second plank of this would have to be in the area of procedures and enforcement. Judging by the number of court cases the I.C.C. has been dragged into as a result of past positive tests, procedures are not legally watertight. They need good legal advice as to how to set the sytem up to be highly resistant to legal challenge. If penalties are then a sufficent deterrent (Surely a ban of more than one year at a minimum) the system should work. If horse racing can do it, there is no reason coursing can't.
People often ask me if I keep a coursing dog or buy a pup. In truth one of the main reasons I don't is the sure and certain knowledge that during its career it will have to meet more than one opponent getting more help than food and water. That has to change.