Opera House Everest scandal: the word "elite" is one man's aspiration, and also his smear

ONE MAN'S ELITE: Top-level CEOs and backers won out as the Sydney Opera House became a billboard for the rich Everest horse race on Tuesday night.
ONE MAN'S ELITE: Top-level CEOs and backers won out as the Sydney Opera House became a billboard for the rich Everest horse race on Tuesday night.

Of all the steaming piles of horse-generated single-origin garden improver flying around this week, one of them stood out as particularly pungent: the term “elite”.

Nice word, elite. Sounds cool, slick. Shiny. 

It’s what (horse) Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys says his new 1200m race should be classed as – he reckons the “Everest” race is so great it’s higher than Group 1, and deserves a new category of “Elite”.

That’s because of prizemoney – the race, which will be run for the first time on Saturday, doesn’t yet have a reputation. But a $13 million total purse and $600,000 entry fee is pretty damn exclusive. Horse owners include the Godolphin stable, owned by the Emir of Dubai.

So here: big money = elite = best.

But in these Trumpian days of culture wars, PR spin and divided communities, the word is also a weapon.

So, soon after calling his race “elite”, there was V’landys accusing the Sydney Opera House management of being elitist after a plan to project ads for the Everest race on its sails was rejected by House management because its charter prevents use as a commercial billboard.

So there: commercial-free heritage public institution = exclusive = elite = worst.

The crime? Serving the wrong elites.

Of course V’landys was making the point that the (expensive) world of opera and high art was excluding the horse racing industry, which was originally a working class sport (but which is controlled by, and profits, the wealthy).

But let’s break it down: what can properly be described as elite? Having a direct line to the Government’s Sports Minister or to the Premier herself – is that it? When you have the most influential Liberal Party-connected radio presenter in town spruiking your side, and pressuring the Premier on your behalf. Is that elite?

What about if eight out of 10 people opposed the plan, as was found by a survey of 903 people by research firm Micromex. Does that mean the “elite” comprises 80 percent of the population?

Have we really achieved that level of redistribution of wealth or power? Karl Marx would be stoked. 

Turns out the Opera House was only offered because the Government said no to the Harbour Bridge. But let’s blame the opera elites for excluding the racing elites.

Perhaps V’landys was confused, and you have to feel for the bloke. It’s also “responsible gambling awareness week”, and no doubt he was burning the candle at both ends, working hard to promote the dangers of gambling and to minimise harm.

This story Elitism on the nose or just a bet each way? first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.