The Victorian government has blamed the troubled vaccine rollout and reduced caps on international travellers for the axing of the 2021 Australian Formula One grand prix and the Moto GP.
“It’s very disappointing that these much-loved events can’t proceed but this is the reality of the pandemic – but until we get much higher vaccination rates we cannot return to normal settings,” state Sports and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula said.
“We’re getting to work on plans for 2022 immediately and can’t wait to welcome the world’s best drivers and riders and all motorsport fans back to Albert Park and Philip Island.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews all but confirmed the anticipated cancellation of the F1 event, saying running such large events was “very challenging” given Australia’s low vaccination rate and international travel restrictions.
“When you’ve halved the number of people coming into the country, when you’ve got 10 per cent of people vaccinated when you want and need 70 or 80 per cent to have had the jab, we’re not at that point,” he said.
“The timing doesn’t quite line up, and that makes it very, very challenging.”
The 2021 race had been provisionally pushed back from its regular early-season timeslot to November in the hope COVID-19 restrictions would have eased by then.
The 2020 Australian GP at the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne was called off at the last moment at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of international arrivals to Australia will be slashed in July as part of a new coronavirus plan, increasing pressure on governments making allowances for athletes while Australians remain stranded overseas.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation presented a COVID-safe plan to the government, arguing the event could be run safely with the drivers and crews operating within a bubble.
“We’re deeply disappointed that for a second consecutive year, both MotoGPTM and Formula One fans won’t be able to see the world’s best riders and drivers compete at the wonderful Phillip Island and Albert Park Grand Prix Circuits,” GP Corporation chairman Paul Little said.
“We appreciate the challenge Australia faces with current international travel restrictions and the importance of vaccinations.”
Drivers and their large crews were reportedly reluctant to go into hard quarantine, which allowed international tennis players to compete at the Australian Open earlier in 2021.
F1 already has a race scheduled in Brazil for November 5-7, leaving little time for a two-week hotel quarantine before the November 19-21 event in Melbourne.
Mr Andrews said he was confident the tennis would be able to go ahead as scheduled with Australia’s vaccination rates vastly improved by then, while the quarantine situation could look very different for vaccinated visitors.
“The reason I am confident of that is that that’s exactly after the period I’ve just been talking about, where we hopefully hit that magic number,” he said.
“Everyone who wants to be vaccinated, everybody who can be convinced to be vaccinated has been.
“At that point, that critical mass, then we’re not locking down anymore.”