Gold Coast – It is comparable to tennis losing
Wimbledon from its schedule. Or the US Masters being stripped of its
status as a golf major.
The Association of Surfing
Professionals announced on Friday that one of the jewels in its crown,
the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, will not be part of the
world championship race this year.
The contest has been downgraded
due to the financial difficulties of the Billabong company. The
Australian surf-wear company announced earlier this month it was cutting
jobs and shutting shops.
The event will be run as a six-star contest, the level below the main tour.
The loss of a marquee part of the
tour increases the likelihood that world champion Kelly Slater will
retire from fulltime competition, sooner rather than later. Jeffreys Bay
was one of his favourite stops on tour.
In a statement released by the
ASP, Billabong said: "The change in event status follows a broader
review in which we are seeking to identify cost savings throughout the
business. By retaining an event at Jeffreys Bay, it now provides two
qualifying events back to back in the South African region.
move to an ASP six-Star also opens the event up to South Africa's
aspiring pro surfers for the first time in 20 years and ensures
continuity of the event for the local businesses in Jeffreys Bay."
The scheduling change means the men's world title will be held over 10 contests instead of 11.
"We agreed as a board that whilst
very regrettable, the commercial realities are such that a pragmatic
approach by ASP at this time seemed sensible," said ASP chairman Richard
"Billabong have been long-time
supporters of professional surfing and still sponsor three of the 10
world championship tour events and we look forward to our deep
relationship with them continuing."
Slater is contesting the
season-opening Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast. First-round heats of
the men's contest, and the Roxy Pro for women, are scheduled to begin
American Lisa Andersen, the
women's world champion from 1994 to 1997, failed to make the main draw
after being eliminated in the first round of the trials on Friday. The
mother of two was attempting a comeback at the age of 42.