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Greyhound campaigners jubilant as stadium closes

WALTHAMSTOW GREYHOUND stadium in East London will close its doors for the last time this August, due to falling profits and lower attendances – and the actions of greyhound welfare campaigners. The buildings and site are due to be sold to property developers.

Charles Chandler, whose family have owned the course since it opened in 1933, said: "With all of the principal income streams in sharp decline, and general running costs rising relentlessly, the company's operations have become unsustainable."

The loss of such a prominent stadium will come as a major blow to the greyhound racing industry, which is struggling to attract new punters. Over the past 10 years, at least 20 licensed and independent stadiums have closed for good.

More than four million people a year bet an estimated £2.9bn on dog racing but, despite enjoying a brief renaissance in the 1990s, the sport has had difficulty keeping up attendances. Changing perceptions of the sport – not least the accusations of cruelty to Greyhounds that are no longer fit to run, and revelations by national newspapers about large numbers of ex-racing greyhound being killed - coupled with punters favouring the betting shops rather than race tracks, has seen the numbers of people going for a "night at the dogs" drop dramatically.

Hit hard

In London, the industry has been hit particularly hard. At the height of dog racing's appeal in the 1950s, up to 100,000 people attended race nights at White City Stadium and the capital boasted more than 30 dog tracks. After Walthamstow closes this summer, only two London tracks remain at Wimbledon and Romford.

Lord Lipsey, chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, said that Walthamstow would be sorely missed. "While no one who follows events at Walthamstow will be hugely surprised by this very sad news, it is a great pity to lose one of the sport's flagship venues at a time when attendances at other stadia appear to be increasing. My sympathies go out to the owners, trainers and kennel staff connected to the track, to all the staff, track bookmakers and the race goers who have helped make greyhound racing at Walthamstow the wonderful experience it is and always has been."

A Government report last year into welfare standards within dog racing after a builder from County Durham was discovered to have killed hundreds of dogs on his land for £10 each. The report, by the former farming minister Lord Donoghue, said standards in greyhound racing "needed to change" and called for improvements in dog welfare.

Welfare group Greyhound Action's North London co-ordinator Steve Norman and his small, but dedicated team of volunteers, claimed credit for bringing about the closure of Walthamstow Stadium. The group's persistent leafleting of Walthamstow race-goers, almost every Saturday evening almost certainly went some way towards driving down attendances.

A Greyhound Action press release stated: ‘Walthamstow is going under, but 29 major tracks still remain in British greyhound racing's flotilla of death. Help us to sink them all by getting involved with the ongoing campaign. Regular leafleting is currently taking place at several, but our aim is to eventually cover every single one.

‘Since Greyhound Action's campaign began in 1997, more than 20 UK greyhound tracks have been forced to close and we have been instrumental in preventing over a dozen proposed ones from opening.’