Anger as Australia’s Sydney Opera House used for horse racing ads

UN body to look into the move to project a racing trophy, jockey numbers and colours on the iconic building

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 10:16pm

The state government of New South Wales in Australia is facing a growing backlash over a decision to display an advertisement for a coming horse race on the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

As the United Nations body that declares world heritage sites said it was “looking into” the move to project a racing trophy, jockey numbers and colours on the iconic building, the lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, joined the chorus of criticism on Saturday.

“I am appalled that the state government has instructed the Sydney Opera House to ignore its own policies to let Racing NSW use our iconic sails to advertise a A$13m horse race,” she said.

“This is blatant commercialisation of Australia’s world-heritage-listed Opera House for an industry notorious for damaging gambling and animal cruelty.”

People should write to the state’s Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, expressing their disgust, Moore said.

The government’s decision on Friday night to order the Opera House to honour Racing NSW’s application came after a public campaign by the rightwing shock jock Alan Jones. The Opera House management had said the proposal contravened a policy to prevent the building’s commercialisation and risked its world heritage listing.

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Asked about the plan, a spokesman for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) told the Guardian: “The World Heritage Centre is looking into this and will not comment before it finds out all the details.”

Meanwhile, the architect who drew up the Opera House’s recent plan to preserve its identity warned that going ahead with the proposal was akin to “throwing garbage” at the Australian landmark.

“It would damage the standing and the reputation of the Opera House,” Alan Croker told Guardian Australia. “It’s an architectural icon … it’s not a hoarding on the side of the road.”

Racing NSW had applied to advertise the Everest Cup, which takes place on 13 October at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

The Opera House management rejected the idea but its chief executive, Louise Herron, was publicly attacked by Jones in a combative radio interview on Friday in which he said she should be sacked after she refused to use the building’s sails as a hoarding for Racing NSW, and said only the colours of the jockeys would be acceptable

On Friday night, Berejiklian, ordered Herron to honour the application.

Croker, who was the author of the 2017 conservation management plan for the Opera House, said he hoped to see a public response to the decision that could persuade the government to change course.

He said allowing the project was a “slippery slope” that could soon result in companies being able to advertise “whatever you want”.

“I read Alan Jones saying this place doesn’t belong Louise Herron, it belongs to all Australians,” he said.

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“I’d like to let him know that he’s not speaking for all Australians … We all need to stand up to it.”

“There have been some wonderful projections like Vivid … that’s a beautiful thing,” Croker added. “But it’s not commercial, it’s not advertising. This, I think, is like a [McDonald’s] ad on the side of the freeway.”

Jones’ intervention came after a Daily Telegraph front page story in which Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys accused the Opera House management of being elitist. The Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph are paid by Racing NSW to publish a form guide for the racing industry.

Herron had been particularly critical of having horse names and numbers on the building’s sails, but V’landys told Jones on radio on Friday morning: “You can’t do a barrier draw without putting the horses name and the number.

“That’s the whole idea of the promotion is to beam that around the world by doing this in a unique landmark of Sydney.”

The NSW Labor leader, Luke Foley, has backed the Racing NSW plan, as has federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who called into ABC radio on Friday to say “people should chill out a bit”.