EARLIER:The Victorian Athletic League and the Northern Grampians Shire Council have called for discussions around state government funding for the Stawell Gift to be re-ignited.
It was announced yesterday that the Stawell Athletic Club had rejected $280,000 of government funding for the 2020 Stawell Gift that was dependent on the club adopting a new recommended operating model.
Victorian Athletic League president Stephanie Mollica said professional running's organising body supported an agreement between the SAC and the state government.
"The Victorian Government has been a major partner of the Stawell Gift and on behalf of the Victorian Athletic League (VAL) we are grateful for the support for this iconic event," Ms Mollica said in a statement.
"Working with the State Government is crucial to ensure the Stawell Gift remains the jewel in the VAL crown.
"The VAL support the offer put forward by the State Government and while ultimately the decision rests with the Stawell Athletic Club, the VAL will continue to avail ourselves to all parties in the hope that support for the iconic Stawell Gift event is secured."
Northern Grampians Shire Council Mayor Murray Emerson hoped the SAC would re-consider the government's offer.
"This decision has been driven by the Stawell Athletic Club in consultation with Sport and Recreation Victoria and Royce Communications that council has been a secondary party to," he said in a statement.
"They have done a remarkable job, this has been a great offer of support for 2020. Council submitted a letter to Sport and Recreation Victoria in November in support of the athletic club's decision as it is not the council's place to make or influence the decisions for the independent sporting clubs in our region but to support and assist them to improve the lives of our residents and visitors to our region.
"I am hoping they would reconsider the government's offer, while they have the opportunity"
Cr Emerson said council recognised Stawell Athletic Club as the traditional custodians of the iconic event and while council was disappointed the athletics club decided to take a different path from the generous offer from the state government, council would continue to support the club and the Gift into the future.
"Council recognises that for nearly two decades the support of the Victorian Government has been critical to ensuring the status and prestige of the Gift through direct sponsorship as well as significant funding to deliver capital improvements to the infrastructure at Central Park and the Stawell Gift Hall of Fame," he said.
"Northern Grampians Shire Council recognises and appreciates the input of the Victorian government over this time.
"The Stawell Gift remains the jewel in the crown of our region's event calendar and we intend to ensure that remains the case by working closely with the Stawell Athletic Club in future years of the event.
"As a council, we agreed to continue providing traditional sponsorship for the event in the form of $27,500 in direct sponsorship annually.
"This direct sponsorship is on top of our in-kind support, including on-ground preparation by our parks and gardens team at Central Park leading up to the event, and sponsorship and management of several off-track events as part of the Stawell Gift Easter Carnival."
Northern Grampians Shire's chief executive Liana Thompson also released a statement, addressing the announcement.
"The Stawell Gift is more than an iconic event, it is part of the fabric of our community. Northern Grampians Shire Council will work closely with the Stawell Athletic Club to ensure the event is sustainable and prosperous moving forward," the statement read.
"We appreciate all the work that has gone into planning for the gift's future and cannot thank Sport and Recreation Victoria and Royce Communications enough for their dedication to finding the best solution for the event's future.
"We are disappointed to hear Mr Versace has decided to step down as patron of the Gift and we thank him for his tireless efforts in championing the event over the years."
EARLIER: The future of the Stawell Gift is in the spotlight once again.
The Victorian government offered funding to support the 2020 Gift and implement a new operating model.
The model was proposed after a review took place post 2019 Stawell Gift.
On February 22 2019, the state Government announced that it would provide an additional $138,000 to restore prize money levels and retain broadcast arrangements for the 2019 Gift.
In 2019 the Stawell Athletic Club acknowledged the operating model for the Gift required a major reform and agreed to participate in an independent review.
The state government publicly indicated future funding support would be conditional on significant changes being made to the commercial, governance and non-racing elements of the event, and the state government, Stawell Athletic Club and Northern Grampians Shire Council signed a memorandum of understanding to that effect.
In May 2019, following the running of the 2019 Gift, the state government engaged Matthew Mahon from Royce Communications to undertake the review. The review recommended an operating model that delivered key elements such as the event being held in Stawell over the Easter long weekend, retention of a live free-to-air broadcast, prizemoney being held at similar levels and SAC retaining event-day management and Gift intellectual property rights.
On November 20 2019, the state Government offered $280,000 to support the 2020 Gift and implement the new operating model.
The recommended operating model proposed a committee of management including representatives from the SAC, the council, Victorian Athletic League, Grampians Tourism and independent members with expertise in event management and marketing.
The purpose of the new committee was to improve the event experience for participants, visitors and viewers by leveraging the TV broadcast, the tourism offerings in the region and the entertainment offerings at the carnival.
The SAC has subsequently notified the state government that it had resolved not to accept the review recommendations and as a result, the associated offer of funding from the state government.
Stawell Athletic Club president Neil Blizzard said the race would still be going ahead.
"We will run the event to the best of our ability," he said.
"In this day and age it's hard to get sponsors.
"We are certainly continuing our discussions with the state government.
"The event will still be run, even without government funding. A lot of elements to the event would need to be taken into consideration."
The state government said the proposal remains open to the Stawell Athletics Club to accept the review recommendations and associated funding support.
2014 Stawell Gift winner Luke Versace has expressed his concerns about the event, tendering his resignation as the Stawell Gift patron.
"Unfortunately discharging this responsibility 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," his statement read.
"I have formed this view after attempting, in my role as SAC Patron, to help the club and the State government finalise a funding agreement after negotiations broke down in November this year.
"This funding is vital and would secure the future of the event, both in the short and long term.
"Unfortunately, this has not occurred and although there are numerous reasons why this is so, the biggest is simply that the SAC Committee is unable, or unwilling, to accept that change is necessary if the Gift is to survive."
Versace said the club's inability to share or cede control in areas it had previously had full autonomy, in exchange for life-saving funding 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," it read.
"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 7, reduce its prize money dramatically and relinquish its status as a truly iconic Australian event.
"It (resignation) is even more difficult to make given the kindness and generosity the club and its members have bestowed upon me since I won the race in 2014.
"Although I understand they may find the position that I have taken upsetting and disappointing, I hope that they understand my actions were motivated by upholding the club motto 'Ever Foremost'. I now ask that they do the same."
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