Australia’s Stawell Gift cancelled for first time since WW2

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Stawell Gift, Australia’s oldest and richest handicap footrace, has been cancelled for the first time since 1945 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers said on Thursday.

The sprint, which has been run in the small Victorian goldrush town every Easter since 1878 except for four years during World War Two, was initially postponed in March with hopes that a date might be found later in the year.

“The 2020 Stawell Gift will not be rescheduled in the 2020 calendar year,” a statement from the organising committee said.

“The event was postponed in March due to the impacts of COVID-19, and at an executive meeting this week it was unanimously decided to cancel the Gift for 2020.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone back to Stawell next year for the running of the 139th Stawell Gift.”

The race, which offers a prize of A$40,000 ($26,376) to the winner, is run on a 120-metre grass track with athletes handicapped according to ability and previous performances in sprints.

Only two men have won the race with no handicap, the most recent being Josh Ross in 2005 — a year after he reached the semi-finals of the Athens Olympics 100m.

A Women’s Gift has been run since 1989, initially over 100m but since 2006 over the full course.

($1 = 1.5165 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford