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.
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.
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.
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.
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.