Stawell Gift in peril after organisers reject Victorian government bailout

Australia’s most famous athletic event, the Stawell Gift, is in danger of collapse after the race’s organisers rejected a $1.4 million rescue package from the Victorian government.

The historic Gift, the richest and most prestigious footrace in Australia, has struggled for years and now faces an uncertain future.

The future of the Stawell Gift is in doubt.Credit:Pat Scala

The Gift needed a $140,000 Victorian government bail out this year to run but a long-term state government financial package and management overhaul has been rejected by the Stawell Athletic Club, which organises the race.

The decision to reject the government proposal prompted Stawell patron, Luke Versace, to quit his post claiming Gift organisers had put self-interest ahead of the event.

“Unfortunately discharging this responsibility (as Patron) now requires me to publicly state that I have lost faith in the SAC Committee to act in the best interests of the event, as opposed to in the interests of themselves,” Versace said in an open letter of resignation.

Versace, a lawyer and former Gift winner, had become involved in November in trying to broker a deal between the athletic club and state government after talks broke down.

The state government had offered the club a financial bailout worth $280,000 a year for five years to help salvage the race as an event and set it up for the future.

The government proposed a new board of management be installed, comprising members of government, the SAC, local council, tourism board, marketing and broadcasting experts.

SAC president Neil Blizzard rejected Versace’s criticisms and said the club was still in negotiation with the government and hopeful yet of reaching a funding arrangement.

“I have no idea why he [Versace] made those comments, we are still talking to them [the government]. We are putting our view across and still negotiating. We will have a clearer plan in January,” Blizzard said.

Versace said the club’s decision imperiled the future of the event.

“Although there are numerous reasons why [they rejected the proposal] … the biggest is simply that the SAC Committee is unable, or unwilling, to accept that change is necessary if the Gift is to survive.

“Crucially, it is the club’s inability to share or cede control in areas it has previously had full autonomy, in exchange for life-saving funding which has prevented a deal from being reached.

“From my perspective this is completely unacceptable and an unjustifiable betrayal of both the history and future of an event that means so much to so many.

“If a deal cannot be reached between the State Government and the SAC in the next couple of days, the Stawell Gift as we know it will be forever gone.

“In the short term, it will lose its national broadcast slot on Channel Seven, reduce its prize money dramatically and relinquish its status as a truly iconic Australian event.”

In 2018 the winners of the men’s and women’s 120m Gifts won $40,000 each.

The prize money was poised to be cut this year to $25,000 in each event, with the winners earning $17,000, before the state government funding allowed the prize money to remain untouched.

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