More than 1000 Protesters armed with lights attempted to upstage Racing NSW’s promotion for The Everest horse race at the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday night.
Originally scheduled for 8pm, the images of the horse race’s barrier draw were projected onto the world heritage building’s iconic sails at 7.30pm.
The peaceful protesters used strobe lights and powerful torches to draw attention away from the promotion, which created a major controversy as it was seen as advertising on the world-renowned landmark.
Several photos released publicly by Racing NSW showed the promotional images almost entirely obscured by reflective light.
— Racing NSW (@racing_nsw) October 9, 2018
The protest followed Racing NSW’s decision to cancel a planned live barrier draw amid security fears and ongoing outrage at its intention to project the results onto the opera house’s sails.
The decision to conduct the draw for the $13 million race in private – and hours earlier than expected – was intended to “circumvent any security risks”, Racing NSW said.
Protesters, including Australian singer Jimmy Barnes, at the “Defend the Sydney Opera House” event organised on Facebook flocked to the opera house to disrupt the projection.
The original Racing NSW plan was to conduct a live barrier draw and project the result onto the Opera House sails.
Betting for The Everest was also suspended until the results are beamed onto the Opera House roof.
— Nick Dole (@NicholasDole) October 9, 2018
Security in the area was being beefed up on Tuesday, amid continued furore about the promotion for Saturday’s race.
NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres, one of the main negotiators for the promotion, described the backlash as “hysterical” on Tuesday. He said he thought the lighting projection was “a good opportunity for NSW and Sydney to come together”.
“I think it’s been a little bit hysterical, to be honest with you,” he said.
A petition of more than 300,000 signatures opposing the idea was delivered to NSW parliament early on Tuesday.
Change.org said the appeal – organised by Sydney resident Mike Woodcock – was its “fastest-growing petition” in recent memory. It called on the NSW government and Racing NSW to stop turning the Opera House into a “promotional billboard”.
Mr Woodcock had said it would be “awesome” if NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reversed her decision to allow the horse race ad.
“What I’m hoping is that she will come down and take a petition from 232,000 people as readily as she’ll take a phone call from north of the bridge,” he before the event.
“To just remind NSW, and everyone that signed this, that democracy works, everyone has a voice and it is occasionally listened to.”
Outrage about the Everest light projection has been boiling for days, after radio broadcaster Alan Jones called for Opera House chief executive Louise Herron to be sacked during an interview last Friday.
Ms Herron had vetoed the Racing NSW proposal because it involved projecting logos on to the heritage-listed building. She was overruled by Ms Berejiklian after a bruising on-air encounter with Jones.
On Tuesday, he apologised for that interview.
“I used some words in these programs about The Everest, and the Opera House, and Louise, which in hindsight I now most regret hearing, having heard the impact they’ve clearly had on some people,” Jones said on air.
“In relation to Louise [Herron], I was tough regarding an issue I and others felt is very important.”
Late on Monday night, comedy group The Chaser got involved in the issue, projecting an “advertise here” sign on the sails with advice to “call Alan”, in a reference to the broadcaster. It was followed by a phone number.
See… it really is a great billboard. Jorn Utzon would be so proud. pic.twitter.com/pXxFarHd9u
— The Chaser (@chaser) October 8, 2018
At the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the NSW government, describing the Opera House as Sydney’s “biggest billboard”.
Mr Morrison said it was a “no brainer” to use the world heritage asset to advertise The Everest, describing those against it as “precious”.
“These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state and the city,” he said.
“Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has?”
On Tuesday, Ms Berejiklian urged Sydneysiders to “have a look … before you judge it”, claiming the display that will be shown is very “much toned down from what the government was first presented with”.
“There’ll be no logos, no names. The only words on there are actually the words of the trophy itself and that is consistent with what has happened in the past,” she said.