“[It’s] fundamentally because NSW was the only state willing to accept our charter plane landing with all our international athletes. We tried in other states but weren’t able to achieve that,” Mr Stark said. “Unfortunately those state governments weren’t able to provide us with a pre-approved quarantine hub system to get into their state.”
Queensland Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe told The Courier Mail on Monday the WSL had “taken short-term dollars at the expense of surfing tradition”, suggesting the decision hinged on the government paying for hotel quarantine.
But Mr Stark said the WSL was paying for the hotel quarantine in NSW.
He said the WSL had made the decision to cancel the Snapper Rocks event and stay in NSW after Queensland refused to guarantee the border would be open to its athletes.
“This is not a financial decision, this is a decision around how we run events,” he said. “It’s too risky to just gamble whether the border is open or not … we had to de-risk our sport.”
The state government estimates the surfing events would generate $15 million for NSW under pre-COVID circumstances, and added that an “investment decision” between the state and WSL was commercial-in-confidence.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who Mr Stark named as a key player in securing the two NSW events, said they they would bring millions to the state economy.
“With a long-running sporting rivalry between NSW and Queensland, once again, NSW has come out on top,” Mr Barilaro said. “In 2021 NSW will be known as the surfing state and sporting capital of Australia.”
The NSW government earlier this month confirmed Newcastle’s Merewether Beach would replace Bells Beach for the launch of the Australian leg of the WSL tour at Easter. It will be the first time since 1961 that the event will not be held at the iconic right-hand point break near Torquay in Victoria, due to uncertainty over hotel quarantine arrangements.
Lennox Head was originally floated as a potential location for the first NSW stage, but was quickly withdrawn following local backlash.
Member for Pittwater and senior NSW minister Rob Stokes said the event would bring much-needed tourism dollars to the northern beaches, which suffered during the COVID-19 lockdown over Christmas and New Year.
“I’m thrilled to see this spectacular surfing event come to our shores and I know the community will love this opportunity to showcase the local area on a global stage,” Mr Stokes said.
Mr Stark said Narrabeen had been chosen as the location for the second event due to its rich surfing history.
“Narrabeen has got a rich history of professional surfing … Tom Carroll and Damien Hardman, there’s such a story there,” he said.
Tom Rabe is Transport Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.