Three-minute biography: Why NRL and racing boss Peter V’landys is Australia’s ‘Mr Sport’

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Malcolm Quekett
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Peter V’landys is Australia’s Mr Sport.
Peter V’landys is Australia’s Mr Sport. Credit: The Nightly

There is a trend in which males who are dominant in their field, notably sport, become known as “Mr (insert relevant sport here).

And so in keeping with that, one title seems destined for NSW racing and rugby league supremo Peter V’landys.

Mr Sport.

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The story of Peter V’landys is a tale of how a migrant to this country makes good using a simple ingredient passed on from his parents. Work hard.

And so his CV now lists, among other titles, chief executive and board member of Racing NSW and chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission — in the spotlight this month after the NRL’s quest for a wider audience saw an innovative, historic double-header season-opener played in Las Vegas.

Mr Sport’s family migrated from Kythera, Greece when he was a young boy in 1965.

A site dedicated to documenting the accomplishments of Kythera ex-pats says the family struggled financially.

“We were very poor,” Mr V’landys told the site.

“My parents sometimes had to go without food to feed the three kids. Dad worked 18-hour days in the Wollongong steelworks.

“He was a ‘doubler’. He worked every day from 6 am and he would normally finish at four, but then he would do a doubler. He’d finish at 1am, and then start at six again.

“Mum worked 12-hour shifts in a cafe so that I’d have a good chance in life. My work pales into insignificance compared to theirs. I’ve never seen a man and woman who worked as hard.”

And like other migrants over the years, Mr V’landys changed his name. Or rather, it got changed for him from the original Vlandis.

A teacher at Keira Boys High School insisted on spelling his name “V‘landys”, and it stuck, the site says.

Mr V’landys gained entry to Wollongong University and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in accounting.

To pay his way through uni, he started work as a glass collector and cellarman at the Unanderra Hotel, before becoming manager at just 18.

At 20, Mr V’landys used money he had saved and borrowed to buy a restaurant, and also worked part-time for an accountancy firm.

“I was basically getting up at five o’clock in the morning and studying for uni,” he said, “starting at nine o’clock at the accounting practice, and then taking over at the restaurant at 5.30pm until about 10pm. I learnt what hard work is,” he told the site.

After graduating he joined a multinational mining company in Sydney. But his real love was racing and in 1988 was appointed chief executive of the NSW Harness Racing Club, helping it to broaden its revenue base, and playing a key role in restructuring the industry’s finances.

In 2004 he was appointed chief executive and board member of Racing NSW.

Before long the industry was hit with an outbreak of equine influenza which saw racing cancelled and the movement of all horses prohibited.

Mr V’landys negotiated with the Federal and State governments for funding for emergency welfare schemes and an unprecedented rescue package which kept the industry afloat and saved thousands of jobs.

He also pushed for race field legislation to allow the NSW racing industry to generate revenue from interstate and overseas wagering operators.

Mr V’landys was the driving force behind The Everest — the world’s richest race on turf with prize money of $20m — which began in 2017 as Sydney’s answer to the Melbourne Cup.

Mr V’landys was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to racing.

And as if he wasn’t already busy enough, he was appointed chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission in October 2019 — just in time for COVID.

After the season was suspended, Mr V’landys used his experience in handling the equine influenza outbreak in racing.

Rugby league set up strict protocols and team relocations when necessary, which allowed the competition to become one of the first professional sporting leagues in the world to resume during the pandemic.

And yet amid all the high profile decisions in which he has been involved, it is instructive to learn of one of his fondest memories.

Mr V’landys told the Kythera site that highlight was convincing the TAB not to proceed with a decision to increase its minimum bet limit from 50c to $5.

“I felt sorry for all the little punters, many of them pensioners, who really enjoy a 50c each-way flutter,’‘ he said. “I went as hard as I’ve ever gone to help keep that minimum limit — it’s probably my battler background coming out.’‘

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