Victorian Athletic League

Victorian Athletic League

The Victorian Athletic League organises professional footrunning events ranging from 70 to 3200 metres. The most famous of these events is the Stawell Gift which has been run since 1878 and hosts the richest footrace in Australia. Many other gifts are held around Victoria in country and metro locations including Ballarat, Bendigo, Wangaratta, Maryborough, Keilor, Yarrawonga, Ringwood, Rye and Olympic Park. Races are run under a handicap system which makes races competitive. [ [ Victorian Athletic League ] ] Runners are awarded prizemoney when making finals and bookmaking occurs at major meets.

History of Professional Running

Professional foot-racing or pedestrianism as it was often called, has its origins in the mid-eighteenth century when the Industrial Revolution was occurring and English public schools and the wider community were becoming very interested in games and sporting pursuits. One of these sporting pursuits was pedestrianism which was the act of rapidly covering a variety of distances on foot, distances which ranged from shorter sprints to the coverage of hundreds of miles. These activities were often accompanied by substantial wagers with large sums of money being won and lost.

It was against this background that early settlers arrived in the Australian colonies from the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century.

In Australia professional foot-racing is said to have begun in the gold-mining days. The miners raced against each other, often in a one-to-one match-race situation on a handicap basis for the gift of a gold nugget offered by the local publican or mine owner.

It was at this time that the main sprint race came to be run over the Sheffield distance of 130 yards, regarded as a true test for professional sprinters. This sprint distance originated from the Sheffield Handicap event in Yorkshire over 130 yards in which the winner was presented with a purse of gold. The metric equivalent of 120 metres has been used in gift races since the mid seventies.

Present Day Professional Footrunning

Professional foot-racing has been conducted throughout Australia using prizemoney provided by sponsors since the eighteen-hundreds. Each state has a circuit of carnivals directed by its State Athletic League operating under the Australian Athletic Confederation.

The 'Mecca' of professional foot-running in Australia is the Stawell Gift Carnival which has been held during Easter for over one hundred years.

However, its status as the richest carnival has been superseded in recent years by the Botany Bay Gift Carnival which boasts total prizemoney of $120,000 and $70,000 for its main race with a $50,000 first prize. The Stawell Carnival has a total prizemoney pool of $90,000. The main race the Stawell gift is over 120m and the winner receives $40, 000.

There are many other carnivals and events conducted under handicap foot-running conditions throughout the nation each year.

Some of the more famous long-running carnivals are the Bay Sheffield Carnival in South Australia, Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria, Burnie in Tasmania, Jupiters Carnival on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Temora and Macksville Carnivals in New South Wales. Since the late 1980s athletics and the Olympic Games have been 'open', meaning that the so-called amateurs and professionals can all compete together for prizemoney without being penalised or discriminated against.

History of the Victorian Athletic League

The Victorian Athletic League was established in 1895. Professional running in Australia began in the gold-mining days and boomed in areas where miners were prospecting and digging for gold. The miners raced against each other for the gift of a gold nugget offered by the local publican or mine owner. The miners raced over various distances but the main race was run over the Sheffield distance of 130 yards. In the 1860's big money began to creep into the sport which attracted a wealth of athletic talent. Competitions took on a carnival atmosphere and crowds flocked to see local champions. In April 1878, nearly two thousand people witnessed the running of the first Stawell Easter Gift which was won by twenty-four year old farmer W.J.Millard. The sport of professional running continued to grow. Big prizemoney and heavy betting attracted talented athletes as well as a range of shady characters. By the early 1890's, the sport of professional running was in crisis. Athletes running under false names, hiding past performance, corrupt officials and other controversies led the need to establish a controlling body for professional running in Victoria. The Victorian Athletic League was formed on 15th April 1895 when RV Lewis of Benalla was elected president and Hastings Bell of Stawell was appointed secretary. Originally the League was administered from Stawell and formulated rules and regulations for country towns that conducted sports carnivals. It also acted as arbitrator in any disputes arising at those carnivals. In 1902 a regular office was established in Melbourne and the Victorian Athletic League began to promote the sport of professional running. Carnivals were held in Melbourne and major Victorian towns and became extremely popular with the sporting public. 1917, a dispute over prizemoney led to a breakaway group, the Victorian Athletic Association, being formed and conducting event in opposition to the Victorian Athletic League. In 1921, through the mediation of the Stawell Athletic Club, the Victorian Athletic League and the Victorian Athletic Association were merged. ES Herring of Maryborough was elected president and Joe Bull appointed as secretary. The Victorian Athletic League established an office in Brunswick and held mid week sports meetings were held at White City in Tottenham, at the Exhibition Grounds and at the Monodrome. During the 1920's and 1930's, popularity of professional running grew tremendously and the VAL staged World Sprint Championships. At the outbreak of World War II, many Victorian Athletic League clubs abandoned their meetings. However, the federal cabinet granted permission for the Victorian Athletic League to conduct footrunning at Maribyrnong for the benefit of athletes on leave from the armed forces and men employed in essential services. After World War II the Victorian Athletic League gained strength and had nearly fifteen hundred registered runners, three hundred trainers and was conducted sports carnivals at seventy centres across Victoria from mid November to early June. By the early 1960's, interest in professional running had waned. The number of registered runners had declined and only twenty-eight carnivals were held across Victoria. In an effort to revive the sport, the Victorian Athletic League invited champion international athletes such as Bob Hayes, Alan Simpson and Robbie Hutchison to compete in Australia. In 1969, the St Kilda club staged the richest footrace in the world with a first prize of $2,000. In 1977, the Victorian Athletic League undertook substantial administrative changes becoming an incorporated company, establishing a computerised record of handicaps and results, and commissioning the use of an electronic race finish recording machine. After years of segregation between amateur and professional athletics, in 1986 saw the dawning of open athletics when Stawell Gift winners Chris Perry and John Dinan competed for Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. In recent years, the Victorian Athletic League has extended its athletic format beyond club carnivals. The League moved into conducting special events such as the famous Dandy Dollar Dash at VFL/AFL football matches, the Moomba Mile run down Bourke Street in the Melbourne CBD, 400 metres series' during international cricket matches at the MCG and sprint events during horse races at Moonee Valley. In 2001, the Victorian Athletic League moved offices to be co-located with Athletics Victoria at Olympic Park in Melbourne. The League began to form a strong alliance with Athletics Victoria through formal affiliation, sharing resources and establishing a dual-registration process.

Athletes that have run in Professional Footrunning Events:


- Cathy Freeman

- Linford Christie

- Robert De Castella

- Josh Ross

- Jana Rawlinson

- Tamsyn Lewis

- Nova Peris-Kneebone

- Melinda Gainsford-Taylor

- Chris Tuohey (Four time Stawell Gift Finalist)

- Madeline Pape (Australian Olympian)

- Bola Lawal (Nigerian Olympian)

- George McNeil (Scotland)

- J.L. Ravelomanantsoa (Madagascar)

- Rick Dunbar

Rye Gift

Held usually around January every year the Rye Gift attracts tourists celebrating the Christmas period and New Year. It has bookies and the track for the 120m is on a slight decline.

Past Winners 2000-2007 (Mens)

2000 R Devalle

2001 M Moresi

2002 C Touhy

2003 C Foley

2004 C Dunbar

2005 G Brown

2006 D Burgess

2007 M Callard

Past Winners 2000-2007 (Womens)

2000 A Fearnley

2001 J Chehadei

2002 K Moore

2003 A Deery

2004 A Deary

2004 A Deery

2006 C White

2007 K Steward


Hosted by the Ringwood Professional Athletic club this event is held usually in January. Its gift has ranged from 120, 200, 400 over the years.

Past Winners

2003 E King

2004 G Mawer

2005 J Hooper

2006 J Boulton

2007 C White


This event attracts both VAL and NSWAL competitors because of the close proximity of the event. Professional cycling events are also held at the same time as the footrunning.

Past Winners

2000 P Walsh

2001 M Callard

2002 E Everton

2003 J Hilditch (Scotland)

2004 J Lewis

2005 D Arthur

2006 J Bolton

2007 A Flanagan


The Ballarat Gift as a strong history dating bating to 1949. It has been held at City Oval, Sebastopol oval and Nothern Oval where VFL team the Northen Bullants play. Many use it as preparation for Stawell and some international competitors have ran at this venue over the years. Prizemoney of $7 500 is allocated for the main race.

Past Winners

2000 Darren Paull

2001 John Cara

2002 Bett Blanco

2003 Scott Beaven

2004 Victor Oyanedal

2005 Warwick Vale

2006 Nathan Dixon

2007 Nick Sampieri

2008 Bola Lawal (Nigeria)


The Bendigo Opal is held around March every year and conincides with the International Cycling Madison. It holds the richest 400m footrace in the world.

Past Winners

2003 Duncan Tippins

2004 Mark Howard

2005 Nathan Dixon 2006 Tommy Neim

2007 Nick Magree 2008 Glenn Stephens

Stawell Gift

The Stawell Gift is considered the country's and quite possibly world's most professional footrace. Over 120m it is televised across the country and thousands are at Stawell every year at Easter.

Stawell Gift Winners 1998-2008

1998 D.Seers Edithvale

1999 R.Matthews Buninyong

2000 J. Pearce Wodonga

2001 A.Pym South Riverview (NSW)

2002 S.Uhlmann Cedar Grove (QLD)

2003 J.Ross North Lambton (NSW)

2004 J.Hunte Barbados

2005 J.Ross Gillieston(NSW) 2006 A.Mott Essendon

2007 N.Allen Toowoomba (QLD)

2008 S.Jamieson Williamstown

History of finalists:



External links



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