MELBOURNE – Tiger Woods' decision to play in the Australian Masters in Melbourne in November sparked heated debate Thursday about how much taxpayers should contribute to his appearance fee.
The golfing superstar will reportedly be paid three million Australian dollars (two million US) to turn up at the Kingston Heath course, with the Victoria state government chipping in half.
Victorian Premier John Brumby refused to confirm the figures but said the crowds flocking to see Woods' first appearance in Australia for more than a decade would pump 19 million dollars into Melbourne's economy.
"It secures for us an extraordinary drive in our tourism industry -- it brings people to our state," Brumby said.
He released a report from auditors Ernst & Young estimating 10,000-20,000 overseas and interstate visitors would travel to the southern city to see Woods.
State opposition leader Ted Baillieu said taxpayers would be unhappy to see their money being used to lure Woods to Australia in tough economic times.
"At a time like this, when people are losing their jobs, it's hard to believe that the Victorian public would think that this is a good idea," Baillieu said.
"When there is concern about high levels of executive salary, the government's spending 1.5 million dollars on the highest-paid sportsman in the world to come here for a tournament which is not an international tournament."
He also questioned the government's figures, saying the Australian Masters was a stand-alone tournament that would not generate the revenue of full tour events.
"Where is the sponsorship deal, where is the television deal, where's the rights deal and where is the evidence that 19 million dollars is going to flow to Victoria because Tiger Woods fronts?" he said.
Welfare groups also criticised the payout.
"Any money that's put into a major sporting event is going to be money that won't be available to fund other services," Victorian Council of Social Services chief executive Cath Smith told Channel 10 television.
The Professional Golfer's Association of Australia's director of tournaments Andrew Langford-Jones said Woods' appearance would provide a huge boost for the sport in Australia and the appearance fee was money well spent.
"Many, many people in Australia depend on their incomes and their jobs from the golf industry, it's no different from the car industry or any other industry," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Australian golfer Stuart Appleby said enticing Woods was a coup for Melbourne but conceded some people would question his fee.
"There's a lot of people hurting in Australia, and they might look negatively that one guy is paid three million dollars just to turn up," he said.
"The common man won't understand the business model because the government is paying for it. They might not see the money he brings in."
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