13 February 2024

AIS to stay in Canberra but the cost of improvements still up for debate

| Claire Fenwicke
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AIS arena

AIS arena and visitor centre will need “significant investment”. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

There may be many sighs of relief that the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is set to stay put in Canberra, but how much the Commonwealth is willing to invest in upgrades is the next question to be answered.

An independent review into the AIS’s location has suggested it stay in the Territory, and the Federal Government has already ticked off on that recommendation. But what funding is needed is being carefully considered by the Commonwealth as part of Budget 2024-25 deliberations.

ACT Senator Katy Gallagher acknowledged the facility needs a lot of work but said the review’s considerations on what’s a priority at the site will require “significant investment”.

“Anyone who goes up and has a look at that part of Bruce will realise the facilities have fallen into disrepair,” she said.

“This review’s looked at what’s needed to ensure that the AIS is the National Centre of Excellence, so we will consider that during the budget process.

“There’s a number of facilities and a number of infrastructure projects, and this is the same with every state and territory that wants support from the Commonwealth, and we have to manage that in our budget as well.”

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Documents previously released under freedom of information have suggested at least $200 million will be needed to bring the facility (excluding Canberra Stadium, which is separate) up to scratch.

Australian Sports Commission CEO Keiren Perkins has made no secret that the athletes’ accommodation urgently needs an upgrade.

“When I used to come and stay here in the 90s as an athlete, it was pretty rough and ready then, so not surprisingly, that is one of the main focus areas,” he said.

“We know if we’ve got the right accommodation that’s attractive to modern athletes as well as teams, we’ve got a much better chance of bringing them here for longer periods of time to then deliver all the services we do.”

He’s glad the review has “put to bed” debates over whether the AIS should stay in Canberra or be moved to Queensland and is now waiting to see which areas it prioritised for funding.

ASC CEO Kieren Perkins

ASC CEO Kieren Perkins’ first priority is improving athletes’ accommodation at the AIS. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

While Mr Perkins’ preference is for the money to first go into accommodation, he won’t pre-empt what the Federal Government will decide to fund first.

As for how much he thinks is needed to deliver a National Centre of Excellence? Mr Perkins said he wanted the “world”.

“We want to win, we want to be the very best in the world and [the ASC] will always do everything it can to ensure we’ve got everything we need to leave no stone unturned, so you can assume we will always be asking for significantly more than we’re likely to receive,” he said.

“If you gave me $50 million, I’d be able to do extraordinary things with it; if you gave me $200 [million], that would be great; if you gave me half a billion, well, guess what, we’re in a great position. We’ll have to prioritise based on what the review lets us prioritise.

“If you compare us to similar institutes and academies globally, most of which were created off the back of what we did here … those facilities have continued to be invested in or are new, so I would suggest in that regard we’re probably behind them.”

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The ACT Government still hasn’t laid eyes on the review, but Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he was looking forward to sitting down with the Commonwealth to consider what funding can go where as part of a larger conversation about his vision for Bruce and the Canberra Stadium.

“[The AIS] will really anchor the elite sports component, but it’s also an education, health and, we hope, mixed-used precinct,” he said.

“I think there’s a really exciting opportunity here to revitalise an area of our city that was fantastic in the 1980s but needs a bit of TLC.

“We’ll work with the Commonwealth to make that happen.”

Other advocacy groups have also welcomed the announcement.

Property Council of Australia ACT executive director Shane Martin said with the decision to retain the AIS in Canberra, it’s now time to significantly invest in its infrastructure.

“The location of the AIS in Bruce is set to receive a radical transformation with increased housing density, a potential new stadium and now a revamped AIS,” he said.

“It’s crucial that all of these different parts work together to create the value that benefits all of Canberra.”

In the meantime, upgrades to the AIS Arena – including new seating and air-conditioning – are on track to be completed around mid-May.

Which event will be the first to be held there will depend on who books it first.

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