The Malta Independent 25 August 2019, Sunday

References to dog racing removed as committee approves Marsa race track concession

Jeremy Micallef Wednesday, 17 July 2019, 18:39 Last update: about 2 months ago

Discussions on the contract to be signed for the privatization of the Marsa race track continued on Wednesday where certain particulars were cleared up between the stakeholders.

A consortium is looking to obtain a 65-year concession and an adjacent piece of land following a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017 between the Marsa Race Track Limited consortium and the government.

The Malta Society for the Protection & Care of Animals (MSPCA) opposed a proposal on the possible introduction of dog racing in Malta.  MSPCA council members Darren Grima told the committee that the Maltese people will not accept that dogs will be put in sub-standard conditions.


He cited injuries that some of the dogs may sustain during the races or training, such as heart problems, broken necks and even paralysis - not to mention that this will also incentivize the creation of puppy mills, and the abandonment of dogs deemed to be not good enough to participate in the races.

"We will be the ones who end up taking care of the abandoned animals."

Grima also pointed out that the international trends show that the sport is being phased out, with Florida having recently banned it.

He also criticized the fact that neither the MSPCA nor any other animal group was consulted.

PN Whip Robert Cutajar said the Opposition was also against the dog racing proposal. He said Parliament should remain consistent with the Animal Welfare amendment bill it approved last week.

This ultimately led to the dog races proposal being completely removed.


Prize Money & Investment

Considering the nature of the project, it was specified in an amendment (11.4) that there will be an increase in prize money of 10% in the first year, then yearly by 3% - with the Opposition members having previously proposed a 50% increase in the first year, and then a 10% increase yearly.

The issue was discussed due to the fact that the prize money is tied directly with the registration fee for horses, so if one had to rise then so would the other.

However, Chairman of the Malta Racing Club (MRC) Edwin Borg clarified that their understanding was that sponsored competitions would be created specifically which would have their own financing.

The Opposition explained that it wished to make sure that the registration fee does not increase due to the contract saying that it will only change if "in agreement with the authority" - the authority in question being the MRC, which is to be in charge of regulating the sport.

They also agreed to amend a clause pertaining to the minimum investment that must be made by the consortium by adding the line - "the grantee is committing to invest a minimum of €24 million in these sports facilities".


Malta Polo Club

Other than issues pertaining to animal rights, the scheduling agreement between the Malta Polo Club (MPC) and the consortium hit a dead-end, which will again be discussed in a future meeting following further negotiations between stakeholders.

The issue surrounded what was being referred to as the "tournament calendar", whereby the MPC will make use of certain facilities on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

A lawyer representing the MPC said that this makes available enough days for the calendar itself, assuming that training can also be done, which Desmond Mizzi, a member of the club, adding that they would have league games on the aforementioned days too.

On the other hand, a lawyer representing the consortium maintained that whilst they respect the tournament calendar, in no way was it indicated to them that it included Monday, Wednesday and Saturday as guaranteed days.

During a short recess where the MPs headed to the plenary chamber for Parliamentary Question time, the representatives of the MPC, the consortium and the privatization unit came to an agreement whereby the MPC will have its season from the 1st September until the 15th of June - specifically, polo days will be Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; Tournament days will not be able to be touched; And on up to a maximum of 12 days a year, the Monday, Wednesday and Saturday dates can be exchanged through a "like-for-like" system.

A formal amendment will be presented in the future.

There was unanimous agreement on a number of other issues discussed such as one of the clauses stating that the MPC will have until the end of February, or the 1st of March, to put forward its calendar of events, with possibilities covering ten months which start in September and end in June.

The MPC will also have the right to use the facilities when the operator is not using them, and there must be communication between them from 12 weeks before the facilities will be used.

The committee will reconvene at a later date to confirm any amendments and, potentially, take a vote on the whole project.

The investors behind the project are Pio Valletta; Hugh Morshead, a director at Henley and Partners, the concessionaries of Malta's passports scheme; a British national by the name of Kusam Sharma; an Irish national called Aldred Kenneth Alexander; building contractors F. Schembri Holdings owned by Frank Schembri and True to Type Ltd, a company registered in Ireland which is owned by a certain Tom Ryan.

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