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Hosting a world championship tour event is an opportunity most cities, let alone towns, would jump at – even bid large amounts of money for.
But the village of Lennox Head in the northern rivers region of New South Wales is quite happy to skip the glitz and glamour in the time of Covid.
It was offered the chance for surfing legends Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina and Stephanie Gilmore to grace its waves as the location of one of four world tour contests.
With the world’s top surfers and a pool of over $1m, the competition holds the attention of hundreds of cameras, and with them, the global surfing community.
However, Lennox Head’s local council prioritised its own community’s concerns – not least among them the threat posed by Covid-19, lack of infrastructure and the fact that locals themselves would be prevented from surfing the waves over a period of 17 days.
An extraordinary meeting of the Ballina shire council was held on Wednesday, in which councillors voted eight to two against the World Surf League’s proposal to hold the tour this Easter.
“People were saying we’re in a bubble here. We’ve been Covid-free we don’t want that to change,” said the deputy mayor, Sharon Cadwallader.
“My concern will always be the pressure on our regional health system if there was an outbreak,” the state member for Ballina, Tamara Smith, told Echonetdaily.
According to Cadwallader, the community also had concerns about infrastructure.
“It’s like the new Byron [Bay]. Lennox is getting loved to death and we are really struggling to keep up with the infrastructure.”
Even without a world surfing competition, “when the surf’s up the cars are banked up”, she said.
Cadwallader said there was a strong showing of Lennox locals at the extraordinary meeting to oppose the proposal. “There were many people outside the chambers and as many as were physically allowed to occupy seats in the gallery of the council chambers.”
Surf magazine Stab reported that Lennox Head local, Nick Mercer, spoke inside the chamber and said that the decision to hold a contest against the community’s wishes could be met with a protest paddle-out by local surfers during the event.
The proposal to hold the competition at Lennox Head had come out of the blue. Mayor David Wright only heard from the CEO of the World Surf League, Andrew Stark, on Tuesday last week.
Wright was one of the two councillors to vote in favour of the proposal and told the Guardian it was a “great surprise to me that it was rejected”.
“I was disappointed, especially for the juniors from the Le Ba [Lennox-Ballina boardriders club] were going to be wildcards in the event and they’re missing out on that experience.”
Wright also highlighted the event would have brought in $10m to the region from accommodation and food expenditure, and that the Lennox Chamber of Commerce was very supportive of the event.
Cadwallader acknowledged it “would have been such a feather in our cap to get such an event in our shire, but you have to look on the flip side of it too and you have to look at the impact. Council’s job is to represent the community and I feel I did that, I didn’t feel there was any room left to go against what I believe was the will of the majority of the community.”
Neither locals nor tourists, who would have already booked their Easter accommodation, would be have been able to use headlands for seventeen days over period the competition held and set up.
“For me it’s like an Olympic event, something on the world stage, which would take an enormous amount of planning to get the event right. To think you could organise it in such a short period and at such a busy time of year is completely inappropriate,” she said.
In a statement to Echonetdaily the World Surf League said it would not go where it wasn’t wanted.
In a statement to Guardian Australia, the World Surf League said “unfortunately, the timing is not right to move forward with the event as planned as the council did not approve our proposed event permit”.
“We appreciate the feedback from all stakeholders who were consulted and look forward to exploring alternative locations for a fourth championship tour event in Australia in 2021.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Why a beachside Australian village turned down the World Surf League | Sport