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VRC fumes as AFL extends 2011 season

Jon Pierik

Jon Pierik

Written on Tuesday, 06 July 2010 18:56

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THE Victoria Racing Club has taken a swipe at the AFL and Cricket Victoria amid fears its $500 million Spring Carnival will be jeopardised by the AFL's decision to stage next year's grand final in October.

While the AFL said it was still in discussions with the VRC and Cricket Australia, it appears almost certain the sport's biggest day will be pushed back a week next year to accommodate the inclusion of its 17th team, the Gold Coast.

The 22-round home-and-away season will he staged over an extra week - 24 - plus finals, with teams having two byes.

The season cannot start a week earlier than the slated Thursday, March 24 because the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sydney Cricket Ground and Brisbane's Gabba are contractually bound a week earlier to host the Sheffield Shield final should those states finish on top of the ladder.

The grand final, therefore, will be held on Saturday October 1, clashing with the VRC's Turnbull Stakes, the first major meet of the Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington.

VRC chief executive Dale Monteith told BackPageLead on Tuesday night that he was outraged by the plan and said it would impact Victoria in several ways.

"In case Victoria finish on top of the Sheffield Shield table, they require the MCG for the Shield final, which seems crazy to me but I am only a racing club executive," he said.

"From my perspective, the outcome of a grand final on the first Saturday of October would be a very disappointing result not only for racing but for Victoria in general.

"It goes beyond Turnbull Stakes day. That week's space we always have between the grand final and Turnbull Stakes day, it's really when the media get the chance to turn to racing.

"Well, we'll lose that free space now and so effectively the Spring Carnival will lose a week's free publicity and promotion. It has the potential to impact the results for the 2011 carnival.

"Last year and previous year's, the carnival delivered in excess of $500 million in economic benefits to Victoria.

"You don't think the government would be interested in that result as well?"

Monteith said he had recently tried to express his concerns to Victorian Racing Minister, Rob Hulls.

"I spoke to the Racing Minister's advisor and alerted them to the problem a week or so ago and haven't heard anything back," he said.

"The sports minister, the racing minister and the Premier would have to be concerned about the potential ramifications of this and the clogging up of the sporting calendar in Melbourne and the established events that have always worked well together."

Monteith said CV chief executive Tony Dodemaide had outlined why he wanted cricket's contract with the MCC to be upheld.

"Of course, remember, if they (Victoria) don't top the table, of course they won't be using the MCG," Monteith said.

"So that seems crazy that that could eventually happen with the rest of the season set in concrete even though the MCG isn't being used on the 15th of March."

CV staged this year's Shield final, which was played before a sparse crowd. Host broadcaster Fox Sports also didn't appear to be too excited by the clash with Queensland, giving viewers the "red button" choice on one channel of watching it or Australia's Test against New Zealand.

The AFL and CV each have six months use of the MCG. The MCC told BackPageLead in March it would only intervene if asked to by the AFL and CV.

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan said the league remained in discussions with Cricket Australia but "it was not expected the start of the season would be brought forward by one week".

McLachlan said the AFL did not wish to start the season without the use of three key venues, as Gold Coast Stadium at Carrara would also be unavailable in the early part of the season due to redevelopment work.

"We fully respect the commitments that Cricket Australia has in March and it was the AFL's view that it was not appropriate that we begin the season without the use of three key grounds, which are still required to be available for cricket at that time of the year," McLachlan said.

It remains to be seen whether the grand final will need to be held in October when the league's 18th franchise, Greater Western Sydney, joins in 2012.

McLachlan, however, suggested it could return to September.

"In 2012, when team GWS is set to join the competition as the 18th club, there will not be the requirement to schedule byes into the season and, as per this year, we will only require 23 weeks to play 22 rounds of matches," he said.

Monteith said if an October grand final became a "regular occurrence it would become a bad outcome for Victoria".

"I know the AFL is a national competition but the government would have to be concerned about anything that would impact the biggest event in town that is the Melbourne Cup carnival," he said.

BPL understands that despite Monteith's outrage, that the VRC will look to stage the Turnbull Stakes meeting on the Sunday in the hope that many of the interstate visitors in Melbourne for the football will attend the races the next day. Moonee Valley will also likely schedule a night meeting the night before the grand final.


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