An arrangement between organisers of the Stawell Gift and the state government over the funding and governance of Australia's richest footrace is "80 per cent agreed".
Stawell Athletic Club president Neil Blizzard said reports the club had rejected the government's deal were misrepresented and that negotiations around securing the future of the 141-year-old race were ongoing.
"We've been moving forward with this every step of the way, and there have even been really really good negotiations today," he said.
"Everyone is saying there's going to be no Gift and this isn't going to happen. We actually have a transition plan that's been agreed to by the government and ourselves going towards a new entity.
"It's about 80 per cent agreed.
"We've actually come up with what we believe and what the government believes is a great transition model to move forward to the next step
"Everyone is saying we're against this model. We're not."
The state government committed $280,000 to the 2020 Stawell Gift on the condition changes would be made to the commercial, governance and non-racing elements of the event.
Mr Blizzard said the club held concerns over the initial plan but were working with the state government to resolve them.
"When the first draft came out there were a lot of things in there that were of great concern to us," he said.
"It's very important that the club secures the longevity of the event.
"We went back with mark-ups, like a normal negotiation, and they were knocked on the head by the government.
"We've been going backwards and forwards, and we've got it really really close to a deal at the moment.
"It was just about getting things right about the longevity, the number of years that it was going to be involved, the structure of where they were headed and the make-up of what they wanted the Stawell Athletic Club to do."
Sad story developing regarding the uncertain future of an Australian sporting event that dates back to 1878— Jason Richardson (@JaseRicho) December 19, 2019
I have my fingers crossed the stories are wrong about the demise of the Stawell Gift, as I know the Vic Government are desperate to help the Gift survive & prosper
Reports of the disagreement between the Stawell Athletic Club and the state government sparked concerns about the Stawell Gift's future.
Previous winner Luke Versace tendered his resignation as Stawell Gift patron, saying the rejection was "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," he said in a statement.
"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."
Mr Blizzard understood outcries from supporters of the race came from a place of passion.
"It's total passion. Good on them for doing it with passion, because we need that in the sport. The job of a club, though is to strip all that passion away," he said.
"The club has so many life members with so many years that they've lived and bled. They've got to strip all those years away and make a decision that is right for the Stawell Gift.
"I think everyone sees the club as being the Gift and that it always was. We don't own the Gift. We're just custodians of it for the 140-odd years that it's run.
"When we make a decision, it's got to be for the betterment of the Gift and for the security of the Gift."
Mr Blizzard said the Stawell Athletic Club was not in a position to talk about the details of the government deal.
"We've been doing this for five months, and a couple of the comments have come from people who have been involved for say one or two weeks, and they think they know everything that's gone on," he said.
"Unfortunately they don't have all the facts or all the history to make these important decisions.
"We're not in a position to put out press releases saying what is actually going on, because we're in confidence with the government about where we're at.
"That's where it should stay until we're finished and done."
'We want to be in Stawell'
Stawell Athletic Club president Neil Blizzard has quashed rumours the Stawell Gift could be re-located from it's home of 141 years.
"It's the Stawell Gift and that's one of the fights. We want to be in Stawell," he said.
"There have been offers to go elsewhere and most of the time you just say 'yeah no worries, the Gift stays in Stawell, bad luck, have a nice day'."
Mr Blizzard said he was approached about moving the race from Stawell's Central Park last year.
"A year ago I had a phenomenal offer to move the Gift to somewhere else. That was to me personally while I was doing something with my role with Deakin University.," he said.
"It was one of those things that comes across and it was pretty amazing.
"But, the Gift stays in Stawell."
Mr Blizzard did not disclose where the offer was from.
"If we moved it to another town and it doesn't matter where it went, that would harm Stawell amazingly," he said.
"Our job is not to harm Stawell. We've been working closely with the council and our job is to promote Stawell.
"The Stawell Gift is part of a bigger Easter carnival. You've got horse racing, you've got rodeos, you've got fireworks, you've got all these things. The Stawell Gift is the centrepiece, I understand that, but it's also about everything else happening.
"If Stawell goes there's a problem."
Government deal latest struggle for Stawell Gift
EARLIER: The future of the iconic Stawell Gift was again thrown into doubt after funding from the state government was rejected by the Stawell Athletic Club.
The announcement comes amid a tumultous decade of sponsor abandonments, cuts to prize money and rumours of re-location that have threatened the standing of the 141-year-old race.
In November, the Andrews government offered $280,000 to support the 2020 Stawell Gift, granted the SAC adopted a new recommended operating model. This was rejected by the SAC.
The proposal was an increase on the $138,000 the state government provided on the eve of the 2019 Stawell Gift.
This year's funding was conditional on significant changes being made to the commercial, governance and non-racing elements of the event.
Those conditions were acknowledged by the SAC, the state government and the Northern Grampians Shire Council, with all parties signing a memorandum of understanding.
The state government has provided financial support to the SAC over the past decade.
In 2009, the state government committed $300,000 to keep the historic race in Stawell.
A further $600,000 was committed in 2014, to support the Stawell Gift for a further four years.
Despite the government funding, the steady loss of sponsors has impacted the Stawell Gift's financial sustainability.
The Stawell Gift has been without a naming partner since 2017, with previous title sponsors Australia Post and Woolworths changing their alignment with the event.
In 2019, the lack of sponsors had its biggest impact on the running of the event.
Prize money for the drawcard men's and women's events threatened to be slashed by $15,000 this year.
A late agreement between the state government, the Northern Grampians Shire Council and the SAC ensured the prize levels would be restored.
Rumours of re-location have periodically plagued the Stawell Gift since the early 2000's.
In 2009, Ballarat offered the SAC $1 million and an additional one-off $20,000 grant to the Stawell Gift Hall of Fame to move the race from Stawell's Central Park.
Earlier that decade, in 2001, then Victorian premier Steve Bracks quashed talks of the Stawell Gift re-locating to Docklands in Melbourne's central business district and committed to a government funding plan.