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.
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. 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 7, reduce its prize money dramatically and relinquish its status as a truly iconic Australian event.
While the situation is bleak, there is still hope the event can be saved if an agreement can be reached in the coming days. For this to happen, it is up to each and every individual who loves the event to do what they can to help encourage the negotiating parties to reach an agreement. This may include contacting the SAC or your local Member of Parliament or utilising social media to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the existential crisis facing this beloved event. Put simply, anything that can be done to put a public spotlight on this issue and by extension help encourage the SAC to aggressively pursue an agreement with the Government would be beneficial at this time.
I would also encourage any sponsors who are interested in helping to save the Stawell Gift to step forward now as the event desperately needs a ‘White Knight’. If a sponsor or sponsors were to appear, they would be doing more than just sponsoring a race, they would be helping to save an Australian treasure.
Finally, I just want to say that making this statement is not something I take lightly, especially given the fact that in my opinion the SAC, its members and team of volunteers have for many decades performed the role of ‘custodians’ of The Gift with aplomb. It 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.
Luke Versace Former Stawell Gift Winner, former Patron of the SAC.