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Oct 18, 2007

George Pell and racing -- the argument gets nasty

Relations between the Catholic Church (and George Pell in particular) and the Sydney racing community have been in freefall for months, but yesterday they sunk to a new low, writes Jeff Wall.


Relations between the Catholic Church (and George Pell in particular) and the Sydney racing community have been in freefall for months, but yesterday they sunk to a new low.

The Australian Jockey Club, with the support of Racing NSW, upped the ante in the ongoing public war between the church and the racing industry when it refused to allow the media to attend and report on a visit to Randwick by 200 representatives of the church, led by Cardinal Pell, including members of the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Laity – which sounds influential!

Negotiations between the church, the NSW State Government, and the racing industry over the use of Randwick to host two masses associated with the World Youth Day event next year, have been drawn out and have become increasingly bitter.

Trainers, owners and other racing industry stakeholders just wish the church and the NSW Government would take the event elsewhere, but Randwick is the only site close to the heart of Sydney capable of holding 500,000 people.

The fact that Randwick has been shut down as a racing venue since August, and shows no sign of re-opening as a result of the equine influenza virus, has just irritated Randwick trainers and the wider racing industry more.

If racing resumes at Sydney’s premier racecourse at the end of the year, or early next year, a few months later it will be closed down again – and trainers and their horses forced to relocate – because of a Catholic Church event or two.

The issue for the racing industry continues to be compensation for the cost of relocating their training establishments, stable staff etc. The industry is claiming millions, but no agreement on compensation has been reached between the church, the NSW Government, and the racing industry.

Yesterday, Cardinal Pell arranged a promotional visit to Randwick for the visiting church delegation, and the media. When the media arrived at the racecourse to cover the visit they were turned away by race club and NSW Racing officials!

The industry, through the CEO of Racing NSW (a state statutory authority administering the industry), made it clear the visit was blocked from being a media event because agreement on compensation for the closure of Randwick has not been resolved.

As a result, Cardinal Pell was left somewhat red-faced and furious!

The era of the racing industry almost being the sporting branch of the Catholic Church is long over. Relations – at least in Sydney – are poisonous and will probably get worse in the weeks ahead.


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