The battle between the ACT Government and the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport over the running of a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship could end up in court.

RallySport Magazine’s story last week that the Rally of Canberra was on shaky ground has got the Canberra press talking about the event. Canberra radio was abuzz with talk of the rally last week, and this week the Canberra Times have run a story titled: “Funding cut threatens Rally of Canberra”.

Our story broke the news that the ACT Government was currently in discussions with CAMS to try and opt out of a contract, which doesn’t expire until the end of 2008, to run the event.

We have now learned that a delegation from CAMS have met with the ACT Government to try to resolve the situation, and that the CAMS representatives suggested to the Government that any breach of that contract could end up in court.

The new-for-2007 Chairman of the Australian Rally Commission and twice winner of the Rally of Canberra, Ed Ordynski, was not consulted on the discussions with the ACT Government.

“I think it is a great pity if things have reached that stage and the new Commission for 2007 would do its utmost to ensure the survival of the event,” Ordynski said.

Government figures show the event lured between 1200 and 1300 visitors to Canberra last year, too few a number for ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr's liking.

However event sources told RallySport Magazine today that the number quoted by the Minister was for actual tickets sold, and that the numbers were actually at least five times the figures quoted.

“As an example, there were significant numbers of complimentary tickets given out, not to mention all the service crew members and volunteer officials – many of which come from outside Canberra. Unfortunately the figures being quoted in the press are far from accurate,” our source said today.

Attendance numbers increased every year from 2002 to 2004, with the number peaking at around 11,500 in 2004. In 2005 the number of spectators dropped to around 10,000, and that number was further eroded in 2006.

An event date change also had an impact, as did the event becoming the first event of the season, and being run in extremely hot weather, which had a significant effect on crowd figures.

“Canberra is the natural home of rallying in Australia, having a long heritage in the sport and a strong motorsport culture.  I have personally seen the enthusiasm for rallying from the ACT Government and community to be the strongest in the country,” Ordynski added.

“If the numbers of spectators and competitors are down as described, then we need to address the situation and bring the event back to previous levels where you had trouble getting to the spectator points because of traffic jams,” he said.
The ACT Government is currently the major financial backer of the Rally of Canberra, which is without a major sponsor after Subaru’s naming rights deal ended in 2006.

"The ACT Government currently invests about $750,000 for the Rally of Canberra through the tourism and events budget," Barr said.

"The absence of a major sponsor and declining visitor numbers has an impact on the future viability of the event," Barr said told the Canberra Times.

"I think it's unreasonable that ACT taxpayers would be the only ones contributing and throwing in $750,000 to an event that doesn't bring many tourists to Canberra,” he said.

RallySport Magazine’s source begged to differ though.

“There is nobody from the Government available to chase sponsorship for the event. If we could get a naming rights sponsor for $100,000 that would make a huge difference to the event, and would probably be enough for the Government to continue their support into 2008," the source said.

However at this stage, that seems a long way off. Rally personnel are still in discussions for a sponsor to provide course vehicles for the event, but those negotiations are ongoing and it is not known if or when a decision will be made.

Around 800 dedicated volunteers put in hundreds of hours of work to enable the event to be conducted each year.

The Rally of Canberra is scheduled for June 1-3.


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