Sydney Opera House Horseracing Promo Display Sparks Anger and Protests

Posted on: October 9, 2018, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: October 9, 2018, 08:00h.

More than a thousand people lined the quayside in Sydney Harbor Tuesday night in a bid to prevent a light show advertising a horse race from being beamed onto the sails of Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House light display promoting The Everest horserace went ahead on Tuesday night, although the live barrier draw did not. Protesters attempt to disrupt the six-minute illumination with lamps and torches. (Image: The Australian)

The decision to project promotional material for next weekend’s $13 million race, The Everest, across the World Heritage site caused a national furor in Australia.

As the lights went on at around 9:40pm local time, protestors booed and trained torches and lamps across the Opera House’s iconic sales in an effort to bleach out the display, chanting “not for sale” and “not a billboard.”

Earlier in the day, an online petition signed by over 290,000 people had been delivered to State Parliament demanding the event be called off, but New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian refused accept it, according to the petition’s organizer.

One protester told The Guardian she was demonstrating against the commercialization of the building and because of concerns about the gambling industry in Australia.

I’m not against things like the Wallabies or the rugby league being celebrated but it’s a bit different. I mean it’s a barrier draw. Why else do you care about barrier draws except for betting? I think it’s a really slippery slope.”

Shock-Jock Tactics Backfire

The trouble kicked off on Friday during right-wing shock jock Alan Jones’ 2GB radio show, in which Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys outlined his plan for the six-minute display. V’landys said he wanted the illumination to depict the live barrier draw for the race, which he claimed would bring in $100 million in tourism dollars to New South Wales.

Opera House chief executive Louise Herron said she had agreed to project jockey colors but drew the line at branding because the opera house was “not a billboard.”

An extraordinarily aggressive interview followed in which the racehorse-owning Jones called for Herron to be fired. But Jones misjudged the mood and found himself on the end of a fierce public backlash over the perception that he had bullied and belittled the opera chief.

On Monday night, Australian comedy group The Chaser projected the phrase “Advertise Here,” along with Jones’ personal cellphone number onto the Opera House sails.

“The haters have marshalled themselves,” Jones reported during his breakfast show on Tuesday morning, adding that he was receiving anonymous calls every minute.

‘Death Threats and Violence’

Nevertheless, Berejiklian backed Jones and ordered Herron to permit the display in full, although a turnaround by the Racing NSW on Tuesday provided a last-minute twist.

At noon, the horseracing body suspended all betting on The Everest and announced that the display would go ahead but the draw would be made beforehand in private, citing security concerns.

“Some people have issued death threats and violence,” V’landys told Australia’s Daily Telegraph. “We can have differences of opinion, but I don’t think it’s necessary to resort to that type of thing.”

Jones dismissed the protests as “childish stuff.”