Racing ruckus: Cup continues but with smaller crowds

BALAKLAVA Racing Club is in turmoil as the main event of its racing calendar, the Balaklava Cup, is still subject to a crowd limitation of 1000 due to COVID restrictions.

This is despite a relevant COVID Management Plan for an increased number of patrons being submitted to SA Health back in July.

The racing club submitted its management plan well ahead of the Cup, which is now just two weeks away on Wednesday, September 16, and with no resolution yet from SA Health, time is running out for the state’s third biggest race event.

Frustrated Balaklava Racing Club (BRC) CEO Doug Hall said the club had lodged a COVID Management Plan with SA Health nearly six weeks ago and had hoped to have a resolution by now.

“The Cup has enjoyed crowd sizes up to 15,000 in the past, but we asked SA Health for an exemption capping our crowd to 2000 this year,” Mr Hall said.

SA Health has been swamped with applications as businesses and events navigate the changing nature of governance and constant rule changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And then the questions started…

“It was three weeks after our submission before we heard back from SA Health, and then the questions started,” Mr Hall said.

“We’ve been going back and forward, and questions are doubling up or becoming stranger in nature.”

“For instance, one of the questions posed to BRC was: ‘Please detail how distancing will be managed on chartered coaches including contract tracing.’

However according to the SA Health COVID-19 fact sheet, it states ‘Vehicles and other movable objects that are available for hire by members of the public for the purpose of tours or other recreational activities are a defined public activity under the Emergency Management Direction 2020,’ meaning the person conducting the activity must complete a COVID Safe Plan and keep contact tracing records.

“So when the train service from Gawler to Adelaide is packed shoulder to shoulder on the Government managed public transport, who is conducting contact tracing – why are the standards different for the private sector?” Mr Hall questioned.

The process for obtaining approval for large football crowds for finals, on dates after the Cup, has also been thorough but appears not as prolonged for football clubs as what BRC is currently enduring.

SANFL football operations coordinator Mid North and Yorke Zone, Simon Purdue, has been guiding local football clubs who are hosting grand finals through the same process.

“The North Eastern Football League (NEFL) has had its application approved for a crowd size of 2000 to attend the NEFL grand final hosted by North and South Clare football clubs on September 26,” Mr Purdue said.

Northern Areas Football Association (NAFA) grand final, also on September 26, is being held at Crystal Brook, and club secretary, Jacinta Huxtable, said after initially applying for 5000 people, the club was contacted and asked to resubmit their application for 2000 people.

“While we are still waiting for official confirmation from SA Health, we have been guaranteed a crowd of 2000,” she said.

“However after the initial application, we also had to provide answers to a long list of questions, particularly around cleaning rosters, time spacing for change room use, density, distancing and management, etc.”

As reported in the Plains Producer last week, Adelaide Plains Football League (APFL) grand final is to be held at Mallala, however the host club elected not to submit a management plan, instead capping its crowd at 1000, with the grand finals now to be held over two days instead of one.

With these crowd numbers approved for football games, it’s easy to see why Mr Hall and the Balaklava Racing Club committee are feeling frustrated.

“When you see other events being approved, there appears to be double standards,” Mr Hall said.

“It’s the lack of decision from SA Health which is hard to deal with.”

“The club’s hands have been tied and we have a Cup waiting list for more than the 1000 ticket cap.

“The financial impact on the racing club will be huge,” he continued.

“Also the volunteer clubs and local businesses who help volunteer and cater at the event will all be reeling from the restrictions.”

The Balaklava Cup is the third largest race meeting in South Australia after Oakbank at Easter and the Adelaide Cup which is held on the March long weekend.

“With no COVID-19 community transmissions for four weeks, and none ever in the Mid North, we hoped the restrictions would have been eased, particularly for country events, and to at least have our submission considered realistically on its own merit.”

On Friday, August 14, new regulations were introduced limiting the public service of food and beverages with patrons needing to be seated at tables to consume alcohol and dine-in meals.

“We have seating and the capacity to easily host more than 2000 race goers – we have a huge space available, and don’t understand why there is such a problem with SA Health approving our submission in a timely manner,” Mr Hall said.

“We have people contacting us constantly asking about buying tickets, but we can’t help them out at this stage,” Mr Hall said.

When contacted by the Plains Producer, SA Health advised a COVID Management Plan must be site-specific and address how density, distancing and contact tracing will be managed to reduce the risk of transmission.
“The plan must also consider control measures to address staff and patron health and wellbeing, hygiene and cleaning, public health education, food and beverage service, and non-compliance and incident management,” the spokesperson said.

“It can take several weeks for COVID Management Plans to be assessed and approved from the time they are accepted, and this depends on the nature of the activity, risks, complexity, amount of information obtained and how responsive the applicant is to any requests for extra information.”

At the time of print, Balaklava Racing Club was in the process of supplying answers for its ninth batch of questions for its submission.