By MITCH RODD

THE iconic Hattah Desert Race is the latest major event in Sunraysia to succumb to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australia’s toughest enduro motorbike race, hosted by the North West Victorian Motorcycle Club (NWVMCC), was last week cancelled for its 2020 event dates of July 3 to 5.

The current world climate worked against the non-profit, community and volunteer-driven organisation to put together another mammoth event, which had been run continuously since 1997.

Hattah Desert Race coordinator, Jenni Gledhill, said all involved with the race were “heartbroken” to cancel the 2020 event.

“We didn’t want to make it the decision, we tried everything possible to not have to, but unfortunately there were just too many things working against us,” she said.

“We tried to put entries off for as long as possible, and even discussed the possibility of holding it later on. Unfortunately not having a crystal ball made it tough.

“We needed this, the community needed this, local businesses needed this and the competitors needed this. Having so many unknowns worked against us.

“Competitors have been thankful for us at least trying to find a way to go ahead for as long as we could.

“We contacted businesses and supporters before we made the public announcement, and they were all very understanding. I think everyone realised it’s a situation that was out of our hands.”

Multiple factors had an effect on the final decision, including the unknowns surrounding interstate travel, financial situations and other logistical issues.

“We didn’t know what the restrictions would look like in terms of interstate travel,” Jenni said.

“Not only would it affect competitors, but other major aspects of the event. Our timing system comes down from Queensland every year, so if we couldn’t cross borders, how would we be able to time each rider?

“We had to make a call as competitors would need to start booking time off to come.

Mildura Regional Development and local accommodation houses have been amazing. MRD contacted them and get confirmation that if we had to cancel, competitors wouldn’t be out of pocket, which was a big worry for us.

“In this economic time there are also a lot of people who couldn’t afford it being out of work, or couldn’t afford to take off.

“It had been a suggestion that we could hold it later on in the year, but then that would cut into the property owners’ harvest time. There is no way we could run the risk of damaging even a single crop.”

Multiple community groups also have a regular involvement in the Hattah Desert Race, and the cancellation will cut an income stream.

“At this time of year I think it’s nice for them to know that they can come and support us, and at the same time walk away with a bit of income as well,” Jenni said.

“Now a number of them aren’t currently operating, and another mode of income has been lost. That is tough thing for us to think about.”

The rest of the calendar year could also be in doubt for the NWVMCC, however Jenni said the committees are already looking ahead.

“If they’re talking about having social distancing restrictions in place up until the end of 2020, like we have heard could be the case, we won’t be able to hold any events this year,” she said.

“At our North West practice days we’d have well over 200 people there, so we’d be well above the 100 mark.

“We’re really planning for 2021 now. We’re so disappointed but all we can really do is march ahead.

“The Hattah committee and the North West want to thank businesses and the community for their support up until this point. It’s obviously such a tough time for everyone.

“We’ll be back bigger and better in 2021.”