Wipeout: Coast set to lose big tourist events
THE GOLD Coast's premier surfing event for 2021 looks set for certain wipe-out amid a stoush over the costs of COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
The World Surf League (WSL) is understood to be shopping the Corona Open to New South Wales towns after the Queensland Government refused to foot the bill for COVID quarantining the champion surfers and their entourage.
NSW and Western Australia are believed to have created a war chest of up to $5 million to attract major events to the state.
The event, which traditionally opens the world surfing tour, was also cancelled in March 2020 as Australia was plunged into its first major COVID lockdown.
The Queensland Government is understood to have offered $500,000 towards staging the event at Snapper Rocks in May, but NSW and Western Australia have offered upwards of $5 million.
Queensland also directed the WSL pay its own way for quarantine, as was the case with the AFL grand final and NRL events held here during the pandemic.
The Bulletin understands the WSL had prepared to announce the fate of the Gold Coast event on Tuesday.
The WSL did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the Bulletin on Sunday.
State Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe confirmed the event's departure, saying he was deeply disappointed.
"I am less disappointed with the NSW Government than I am with the World Surf League's decision to chase short-term dollars at the expense of surfing tradition," he said.
"The breaks at Snapper Rocks are highly regarded worldwide, as are those at Bells Beach in Victoria.
"The WSL made it clear holding the event at Snapper Rocks this year was conditional on the Queensland Government picking up the quarantine tab for the WSL's international competitors."
Mr Hinchliffe also hit back at the NSW Government.
"Quarantine expenses for sporting events have always been the responsibility of the organising body," he said.
"If that's what NSW has agreed to pay to lure the WSL, then NSW taxpayers who have paid for hotel quarantine out of their own pocket should ask for a refund."
Tourism industry leaders have been scrambling in recent days to try and save the southern Gold Coast event, which annually brings millions of dollars and the sport's biggest names to the city.
"We didn't expect to be engaged in a bidding war with NSW and Western Australia who put together a war chest of taxpayer funds as a lure," an industry source told the Bulletin.
"Essentially the Government were hamstrung because Queensland, like Victoria, stood firm on forking out taxpayer funds to put up athletes.
"So now rather than keeping it where it should be, WSL are now trying to give the classic to the highest bidder rather than keep it on the Gold Coast which is the home of surfing.
"There's just no way you can compete with $5 million."
The league was forced to cancel the Easter Bells Beach event in Victoria, relocating it to Newcastle from April 1-11.
The Gold Coast event, and the Margaret River Pro in Western Australia, are still marked as "tentative" on the WSL website.
Gold Coast surfing commentator Andy McKinnon said the WSL's reluctance to foot the COVID bill likely came from a strained financial position.
The WSL, which relies heavily on sponsorship and media deals for revenue, has had its income hammered in the past 12 months.
"We didn't have a world tour last year and the WSL is probably facing some pretty big problems as far as keeping afloat," Mr McKinnon said.
"I know how much it costs to run one of these events - it's around $4 million.
"Obviously this is really costing WSL and they're probably really dependant on government support."
Mr McKinnon said qualifying events, which allowed up-an-coming surfers to earn a place on the tour - had been particularly hard hit.
He said the league should consider a complete overhaul of its format, perhaps focusing on virtual heats at surfers' home breaks and culminating in a single final event.
"I feel for the WSL, the competitors and organisers," he said.
"Maybe it's still a bit premature to try and go ahead with a world tour in 2021.
"The Gold Coast has a great history of world tour events, and we don't want to lose this one."
Business leaders say they are devastated by the prospect of the southern Gold Coast losing one of its only major events.
"Losing this event would definitely hurt our economy," Greater Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Hilary Jacobs said.
"We would not like to see any event lost from the south but at the same time we don't think the State Government should have to pay for surfers."
Originally published as Wipeout: Coast set to lose big tourist events