SYDNEY •It was not music to the ears of many Australians after hearing that the Sydney Opera House would be transformed into a giant advertising billboard for a horse race. They were not in favour of the commercialisation of the cultural icon by an industry synonymous with gambling.
Promotions for the Saturday event in Sydney, where prize money of A$13 million (S$12.8 million) is up for grabs, were set to be projected in the form of a light display on the Unesco World Heritage-listed building last night.
More than 3,000 protesters planned to obstruct the beamed images with lights, according to a "Defend the Sydney Opera House" Facebook page. About 267,000 people had signed a petition opposing the promotion.
Australians lose more money per head on gambling than the citizens of any other nation.
Anti-gambling campaigners said the opera house advertisement is another sign that the industry is intruding into everyday life.
The row erupted after influential radio host Alan Jones last week lambasted Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron for opposing the advertisement.
She had told local media that "if we said yes to this, we're just going to allow whoever comes along to use the Opera House as a billboard (and) we would lose our World Heritage status".
Jones said he would speak to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and added that Ms Herron should be sacked.
He later said he regretted some of his words.
Ms Berejiklian overruled Ms Herron and said the promotion of the Everest horse race was in Sydney's economic interests. The premier called on people to see the images before making a judgment.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could not "work out what all the fuss is about".
"Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has?" he added.
"This is about advertising one of the biggest events that New South Wales holds. Frankly, I thought it was a bit of a no-brainer."
The Everest race takes place a day before the world premiere of a film about Sydney Opera House architect Jorn Utzon is shown at the landmark, which opened in 1973.