Saturday, June 30, 2007

AJC bans Pope for youth visit

PLANS for next year's papal visit to Sydney were thrown into disarray yesterday, with the Australian Jockey Club refusing to sign off on its promise to host the Pope at Randwick racecourse.

The 11th-hour about-face could jeopardise the Pope's planned mass before an expected 300,000 followers.

The concerns of horse trainers appear to have caused AJC chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk to baulk at signing a heads of agreement to make Randwick available for the religious gathering.

The trainers are demanding compensation if the racecourse is shut down for at least 10 weeks from June 14 next year in order to hold the event.

Mr Smyth-Kirk said last night he had not given up hope of persuading the Iemma Government and the Catholic Church to seek an alternative venue for World Youth Day.

When asked if it was still possible to move the event away from Royal Randwick, he said: "In theory 'Yes', in practice 'Probably not'."

"We are going to explore all our options and ask the Government to do the same," Mr Smyth-Kirk said.

"At least there must be compensation paid to Randwick trainers who may have to move their business to another racetrack for up to three months."

A planned mass by the Pope at Randwick on July 19 next year would attract up to 300,000 people. Major modifications would have to be made to the racecourse, including the removal of rails and covering of the ponds.

Most of the attendees at the festival's centerpiece – World Youth Day – are expected to camp overnight on the racecourse grounds.

The heads of agreement committing Randwick as the World Youth Day site was due to be signed yesterday by AJC officials and representatives of the Government and Catholic Church.

Then Mr Smyth-Kirk ordered AJC management not to formalise the documents.

Last night, a World Youth Day spokesman said Randwick remained the preferred site.

"All the parties involved are committed to World Youth Day at Randwick," he said.

"We're all working together to resolve the planning issues associated with hosting the event. When those discussions are finalised, we'll work together to settle an agreement."

Mr Smyth-Kirk said further consultation was needed to determine the ramifications to the racing industry if Randwick was temporarily closed for training and racing.

AJC officials are trying to persuade the State Government to consider alternative venues such as Telstra Stadium or Centennial Park.

Mr Smyth-Kirk has consulted the sport's controlling authority, Racing NSW, on the issue.

"Racing NSW is prepared to assist the AJC and Randwick trainers in any way possible," Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys said last night.

"It has to be appreciated that our participants' livelihoods are at stake and we want to be sure they won't be left out of pocket."


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