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COVID blamed, but Health authorities not consulted on Supercars axing

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Health authorities were not consulted about the Marshall Government’s decision to scrap the Adelaide 500 – despite the move being blamed in part on the COVID-19 pandemic – with the Premier now warning all large-scale public events are “under a cloud”.

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Steven Marshall said today SA tourism events would need to “pivot” from “a small number of large events to a large number of small events which are COVID-safe”, saying fixtures such as the Royal Show, Tour Down Under and future Christmas Pageants are “all under a cloud”.

“I don’t think there are any mass events that are going to continue the way they have in the past,” he said.

“What we need to do is sit down with event organisers and come up with some pretty significant modifications.”

He said the Superloop Adelaide 500 – formerly the Clipsal 500 – had brought “much money and many visitors into our state in the past but what we have seen in recent years is a reduction in the number of people who have been attending this event”.

“We’ve seen an increase in cost, we’ve seen a reduction in the amount of corporate support and then when we layer over the top of that the implications of living in this COVID environment – this event has become unviable,” he told reporters.

“As we learn more about COVID-19 and the way that we can manage COVID-19 events, we realised very quickly that this would be unviable in 2021 and quite frankly unviable going forward.”

But South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier told reporters at a later media conference her advice wasn’t sought about the decision – or the public health implications of the street-car event proceeding.

“We weren’t approached about the Supercar race at all,” she said.

“But, as people are aware, large events where you’ve got large numbers of people do pose an increased risk, particularly that sort of super spreading phenomenon with COVID, so we have worked through with many different organisations being able to do similar events but in a COVID-safe way…

“There are always ways of working around and making things safer but in this instance, we were not approached so we haven’t had any opportunity to feed into that process.”

Former South Australian Motor Sport chair Roger Cook told InDaily the decision to permanently axe the event was “staggeringly disappointing”, saying its prestige had been “built up over a long period of time”.

“To work so hard to find an event and get it to a stage where it was considered the best touring-car event in the world at one stage – and could be again, with the sort of endeavour that can easily be applied – to get rid of something like that which was so hard-fought for is staggeringly disappointing,” he said.

“I know it’s gone from being a minor cost to Government to a major cost, but to use the excuse of COVID I thought was really quite extraordinary… if you start applying the COVID excuse, you’re not going to have the Royal Show, footy or anything, because it’s just a crowd-based thing.”

He also took a shot at the former Labor Government’s decision to disband the Motor Sport Board and shift the race to the purview of the SA Tourism Commission.

“I think the disbandment of the board was a step in the wrong direction,” he said.

Marshall was careful to couch the decision as following “an SATC recommendation” to spend the as-yet unspecified race funds  – which he would only say were “well north of $10 million” – on bolstering the broader events sector.

“The SATC made a recommendation to the Government advising that we should repurpose that money to support the events sector, which is a sector which has been doing it extraordinarily tough,” he said.

“It wasn’t a decision which was taken lightly – in fact, a huge amount of effort went into the analysis for this recommendation… but ultimately we are supporting the recommendation of the SATC.

“My commitment today is that all of the money which has previously gone to this Supercar item on our events budget will all be repurposed to create new and exciting events.”

Marshall compared the loss of the Supercar event to the mid-‘90s loss of the Grand Prix – but acknowledged this was a decision by government that could have a political blowback.

“What we know is that there is just no chance that we can have the type of crowds that we have had previously at this event in this COVID environment, so we would have seen a further reduction in the number of people attending, a further increase in the cost of this event, and the SATC, I think quite rightly, has identified that there are better ways to spend that money to support jobs here in our state,” he said.

“I think we going to be living with the coronavirus for an extended period of time and I think that really rules out for the future events that are attracting 200,000-plus people.”

He said the Government and Adelaide City Council had invested in preparing a business case for a proposed ‘Formula E’ event, but in the same breath he declared Adelaide’s streetcar circuit was “very unlikely” to be revived in any form.

“The future of a streetcar racing funded by the taxpayers of South Australia in this COVID environment is completely unviable,” he said.

“I haven’t seen the business case but I think it’s going to fall into a pretty similar category to what we’re talking about here, because… the very high infrastructure costs associated with establishing a street circuit and the very significantly diminished number of people that can attend make these types of events very difficult at this time.”

SATC boss Rodney Harrex did not respond directly when asked whether the Supercar event would have been extended beyond its current contract if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a very commercial board and the board challenges us around the areas we invest,” he said.

“The key point here is we are looking to 2021 [and] the event was not possible in the [current] scale and size… we’ve got to look at structures and ways we deliver events to SA, and the 2021 event could not have happened.”

He added it was “important to recognise the significance of the investment that goes into building the street circuit”.

That’s despite the Government regularly talking up the event’s economic impact, having claimed the 2019 race injected “a record $45.9 million into the South Australian economy and created 435 full-time equivalent jobs”.

In a statement, the Supercars organisers said they had “enjoyed racing at this event since 1999”.

“We regret that the South Australian Government has decided to cease holding this event… Supercars are looking forward to providing our fans with an exciting 2021 Championship across Australia and New Zealand,” they said.

“If at any time in the future, the South Australian Government decides to recommence the Adelaide 500, Supercars would be delighted to be there.”

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said he’d already spoken to furious Supercar organisers and would consider whether Labor would campaign on returning the street circuit to SA if elected in 2022.

“That will absolutely be part of our discussions in coming days,” he said.

He noted that at this stage Melbourne’s Formula 1 Grand Prix was scheduled to proceed, while motorsport events had recently been held at the Shahin-owned The Bend Motorsport Park in Tailem Bend.

“Is the Premier suggesting the health advice is it’s ok in Tailem Bend but not in the city?” he said.

He also noted the Supercars had recently renewed their TV rights deal without losing revenue, adding: “To suggest this is somehow an event in decline is quite frankly misleading.”

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