Tobacco ban threatens GP future
The Australian Formula One Grand Prix is likely to come under funding pressure when it loses its exemption from Australia's anti-tobacco advertising laws after Sunday's race.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone also warned the Australian Grand Prix that it would breach its contract, which runs to 2010, if the Albert Park circuit was not allowed to display cigarette advertising.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, from October 1, will no longer have discretion to grant international and cultural sporting events an exemption from the country's tobacco advertising prohibition laws.
Melbourne has hosted the Australian Grand Prix since taking the race from Adelaide in 1996.
Once the exemption is in place, the Victorian Government could have to pay $20 million for Melbourne to host its first tobacco sponsorship-free grand prix.
The Federal Government has rejected calls to support the race financially, leaving the state Government to foot the bill for banning tobacco advertising.
Victoria Premier Steve Bracks rejected talk today that the Australian Grand Prix was in jeopardy because of the looming tobacco ban.
Bracks said he was confident new sponsors will be found to fill the funding void from 2007.
"There's been many, many years (of) anticipation that sponsors will need to be replaced – tobacco sponsors with other sponsors," The Age today quoted Mr Bracks as saying.
Australia was following a line of other grand prix-hosting countries that had successfully banned tobacco advertising from their events, Mr Bracks said.
"This has occurred in other countries (so) we have no concerns or fears at all," he said.
Ecclestone, who governs the multi-billion-dollar commercial rights to Formula One, raised the possibility that Australia could be in breach of contract when the exemption ends later this year.
"We've always relied on the fact that in Australia we can run with tobacco branding, but I understand now that there may be some problems with that," he said from London.
"If there's something in the contract that refers to tobacco advertising, obviously it's something to be worried about."
Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker said Melbourne had an "iron-clad" contract to host the race until 2010.
"We have a long-term contract with Mr Ecclestone," he said.
"We have a contract that clearly conforms with the law of Australia and, once the law is changed, we cannot, under the law, display cigarette advertising.
"This has become very wide now, in fact, all over the world. The banning of tobacco advertising is gradually being phased in.
"The tobacco advertising Mr Ecclestone is referring to was negotiated by Mr (Max) Mosley (president of the world governing body of motor sports) directly with the Australian Government."