26 May 2021

Build it and who will come? Should the ACT join the race for 'big event' sport?

| Tim Gavel
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The Brumbies at Bruce Stadium

Will the Rugby World Cup come to the ACT in 2027? Photo: Tim Gavel.

The ACT Government is again involved in an awkward dance with a national sporting organisation to determine the city’s interest in hosting a major event.

Rugby Australia is bidding for the 2027 World Cup and, if successful, is looking to host matches at 10 venues across Australia.

Given the Brumbies’ status in world rugby, you would think hosting matches in the ACT would be a no brainer. But there is more at play here than simply holding matches in rugby heartland – there’s a bidding process underway.

To put it bluntly, World Cup matches will come to Canberra if the ACT Government makes a significant financial contribution.

However, the ACT Government needs to be guaranteed that there will be a substantial return in terms of people visiting the city to watch games and exposure for Canberra on a global scale.

In 2003, Canberra hosted four Rugby World Cup matches before crowds of between 19,000 and 22,000.

In 2015, the ACT took a gamble with the Asian Football Cup and it paid off handsomely.

Asian Cup 2015 at Canberra Stadium

The Asian Cup 2015 at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel.

In more recent times, though, there has been a perception that with competing priorities, the ACT Government has been a little circumspect bidding for major sporting events.

A case in point is the 2023 Women’s Football World Cup where it was deemed the asking price was well in excess of a possible return. The result was that the ACT Government opted against bidding for matches and Canberra missed out.

That’s not to say the government isn’t spending money on sport.

There’s the continuing development of Stromlo Forest Park, tennis facilities at Gungahlin and the football headquarters at Forde. In January next year, Canberra will host the Women’s Ashes Cricket Test between Australia and England.

There’s also the extension of the GWS contract and the funding of Canberra sporting teams such as the Raiders, Brumbies, Canberra United and the UC Capitals, and funding assistance for the new Raiders training facility.

While the number of major sporting events coming to Canberra appears to be on the light side, of greater concern is the state of the city’s sporting facilities.

I wouldn’t be holding my breath for a decision on the future of Canberra Stadium and the proposed Civic Indoor Stadium. There could be a second NRL team in Canberra before that happens.

We seem to be adopting band-aid measures to keep Canberra Stadium going.

The AIS Arena

The AIS Arena is still closed. Photo: Tim Gavel.

There’s also the closure of the AIS Arena, with no resolution in sight, which means no major netball, basketball or volleyball in Canberra for the foreseeable future.

The UC Capitals will continue to use the Convention Centre for WNBL games, but there remains a definite void without a 3,000 to 4,000-seat stadium.

There’s also the uncertainty over the Phillip Ice Rink and Swimming Centre, with no apparent movement on the proposed new ice-skating facility.

Phillip Ice Skating Rink

Canberra ice skaters and ice hockey fans may face a long wait before they get a new facility at Phillip. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The new Molonglo swimming pool has also had an impact on usage at the Phillip facility.

In many respects, the facilities on offer play a role in whether or not the government provides significant financial backing to sporting events.

READ ALSO Were dreams of a new ice sports facility in Canberra just a melting moment?

The two go hand-in-hand with the government desire to host events made stronger if there is a new facility to showcase.

What an interesting dilemma for the ACT.

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HiddenDragon6:35 pm 27 May 21

Might be better to stick to niche sports where Canberra has an advantage over larger cities, and where there is more likely to be a tie-in with other tourist reasons for visiting here. Doing it that way allows scarce funds to be spread more widely, and involves less risk if grand plans don’t quite work out.

Given the levels of screen-junkie/couch potato obesity in Canberra, sports where there is greater opportunity for amateurs to make the transition to something more serious should be favoured. Cities with much deeper pockets can subsidise the multi-milllionaire gladiators of high profile professional sport.

Capital Retro8:18 am 27 May 21

“To put it bluntly, World Cup matches will come to Canberra if the ACT Government makes a significant financial contribution.
However, the ACT Government needs to be guaranteed that there will be a substantial return in terms of people visiting the city to watch games and exposure for Canberra on a global scale.”

This has never happened before and because Canberra is where it is (even backpackers give it a miss) it will never happen so any significant contribution by the government (taxpayers) is a dead loss.

Remember before the Sydney 2000 Olympics when the then ACT government moved heaven and earth to complete duplication of the Federal Highway so the hordes of spectators could come here and watch the third rate games that had been allocated to us?

No one turned up.

Not The Mama7:30 pm 26 May 21

How Boring – the usual mix of negative comments from the usual mix of neigh sayers. “What a waste of taxpayer money”, “use all of the money to spend on health/policing/roads – and none on the arts, the arboretum, the light rail, trees and sports or the environment”, “get rid of Summernats/the supercar races (remember those?)/bike lanes/e-scooters”

If the government listened to you Canberra would be a barren, sterile, place without anything to do except walk around the lake or go to the beach on the South Coast of NSW.

Governments are not meant to make a profit – they are meant to make strategic investments in the region they have jurisdiction over and in the people that live in it.

We are crying out for good easy to get to sporting facilities of all sorts. Ruby Union and Rugby League Venues are at the top of the list.

Why do I want them? Because someone else needs them!!! and if we provide them it will make Canberra a more diverse, desirable place to live in.

The government should not be involved in promoting business. If business wants to put on these events it’s their business and their business only.

Concentrate on the bread and forget about the circuses. To paraphrase Karl Marx – (spectator) sport is the opiate of the people.

Capital Retro9:06 am 26 May 21

“Hopefully have a new stadium with a retractable roof by then.”

It will have to be battery operated and covered in solar panels.

Despite your senseless disdain for anything that might represent a ‘better way to do things’, just why shouldn’t a new stadium have solar panels if they could be incorporated into the design?

Capital Retro3:55 pm 27 May 21

Well, solar panels could be installed but they would be useless for night-time events. That why I suggested batteries too.

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