8 June 2022

Cold comfort: it’s time a new stadium - and long-suffering fans - became a priority

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra Stadium

Canberra Stadium in winter: when it’s not cold or wet it’s cold and wet. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra Stadium is hard to love, especially in winter, with the structure feeling like a wind tunnel, and more often than not, a wet wind tunnel.

Combine the brutally cold wind with rain and the unforgiving concrete cold of the inner bowls, and it’s no wonder fans prefer to stay at home and watch the Raiders and Brumbies on television.

At least the prospect of a new enclosed stadium provides some hope for Canberra sports fans.

Well, it used to.

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The timeframe is constantly being extended and that was before reports over the weekend that a new indoor stadium is not a priority, at least in the short term, and the Civic Olympic Pool site is no longer an option. The reason cited was demand from sports organisations for a 30,000 seat stadium to attract major international sports events.

The problem?

The Civic Olympic Pool site is apparently only big enough for a 20,000-seat stadium.

So much for national sports codes extolling the virtues of taking major sports events to areas outside Sydney and Melbourne to build their brand! They also want a 30,000 seat stadium. And government funding.

Canberra Raiders

Raiders at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

I must admit, though, I have been in the dark over this restriction in size being an impediment to building a stadium on the Civic Pool site. I thought the development depended on Canberra securing an A-League licence, a deal with the Commonwealth associated with Canberra Stadium, and the state of the ACT budget.

Given this emphasis on crowd capacity, I have gone through the records of crowds at Canberra Stadium for international sporting events to see whether this is an issue.

Occasionally the crowd at Canberra Stadium tops 20,000, but not often.

There were 25,628 at the Anzac Rugby League test in 2013, and more than 20,000 watched the Socceroos Asian Cup qualifier in 2009, the Wallabies test against Italy in 2009, the Rugby World Cup game involving Wales and Italy in 2003 and the Olympic soccer matches in 2000.

In terms of the Brumbies and Raiders crowds, they would be happy with 20,000 for their home games.

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The question then needs to be asked: for whom would the stadium be built?

Is it for the fans of Canberra sports teams, the fans who brave the elements on a weekly basis during winter, or is the stadium to be built to secure the occasional international sports event?

One of the proposals, which floored me, was replacing the Mal Meninga Grandstand at Canberra Stadium because it wasn’t such a hit on ACT coffers. But this misses the point: the original concept behind building a new indoor stadium in Civic was its proximity to services such as transport.

Replacing the Meninga Stand will do little to add to the comfort of fans in the outer seats, nor will it be the modern facility the capital lacks. And as Ricky Stuart observed, Canberra is the only capital city without a modern stadium. He appears to have an important ally in this endeavour in soon-to-be-senator David Pocock.

So here’s a question to consider: are we building the new stadium in the hope of attracting international sport, or do we need to cater primarily for the fans of the Raiders, the Brumbies and potentially an A-League soccer team?

That seems like a no brainer.

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There is absolutely no clear reason for an upgrade to the Bruce Stadium. So what if it is cold? That’s the same for every outside sports activity in Canberra during the winter. I for one, am sick and tired of the bleating for public spending on all sorts of projects that have a very narrow avenue for payoff!

No problem funding – wherever the site chosen – CIT Board and CEO there will gladly fund it – they have plenty $$$

Abandon light rail stage 2 and use the savings to build a convention centre and stadium at EPIC. Problem solved.

A Stadium at Epic is just as bad as a stadium at Bruce. It’s too isolated from the majority of the population and is not located adjacent to a hospitality/entertainment precinct.

Then you build the hospitality and entertainment precinct around it. Biggest advantage of EPIC is the space. The Civic pool site is far too small. Isolation wise south siders are isolated from civic anyway due to the body of water. You just need heaps of parking which EPIC offers.

Sam Oak, so you want to build a hospitality precinct in an area with almost zero residential population?

Can’t possibly think why that won’t work.

EPIC is nowher near population, employment or commercial centres. “Space” doesn’t mean much if it isn’t near anything.

Why not build it South of Tuggeranong. Plenty of “space” down there too.

Capital Retro3:01 pm 14 Jun 22

It would be cheaper and more efficient to supply every sport following Canberran with a new 80″ TV, a Kayo Sports subscription and delivery of free hot chips and booze every time a big match is on.

Where do I sign up for that?

Capital Retro8:17 pm 14 Jun 22

I already do it but I am self-funded. I used to go to daytime matches but it’s too cold at night and COVID is killing crowds.

Do I get to choose the booze?

Given the state of the world and national economies, Australia’s debt levels and budget position, I’m not seeing a new stadium being high priority for any government in the next several years. I think the chance has gone for the next few years at least.

Don’t suppose the Raiders and Brumbies could build their own stadium?

I bet the Return on Investment would be better than that for the Little Red Train.
Maybe a new stadium could be considered after we have paid off all of the future Stages of the train……

Clever Interrobang9:39 pm 13 Jun 22

So much public money gets wasted on sport and could be better spent improving the lives of ordinary people (or paying back government debt)

Alex Smorhun3:41 pm 13 Jun 22

Basically not justified to spend more tax-payer’s monies for a game that attracts medium to poor crowds – for example, only 6,400 attended the recent roosters NRL game. Rugby union is in the same boat. Speaking about other grounds, a new grandstand should be considered on the eastern side of manuka oval to accommodate AFL’s sell-out crowds and international cricket. This proposal would be a financially justified decision as manuka oval is utilised in both seasons for football and cricket and importantly will be of benefit to small businesses in that area.

Um, the Raiders crowds have averaged more than the Manuka AFL crowds even though they’ve often played at unsuitable times, in poor weather.

They can’t even sell out the few AFL games that we have.

Do you know what the weather was like for that Roosters game? A perfect example for why a roof is needed. There was >16,000 at the Raiders the previous week!

Canberra needs a 50k stadium. This is needed now for international events and cater for a growing city. Redevelop Bruce (north and south ends), then roof, or other way. 30k stadia won’t cut it for much longer

And how do you think us motorsports people feel? We’re probably going to lose the one place where we can practice our sport even at grassroots level. Yet as we don’t have big lobby we get nothing when a race track would cost less than a tenth of a stadium and be useable by all, not just elite sportsmen.

swaggieswaggie1:13 pm 13 Jun 22

Telopea Park School has the space for a stadium, making Manuka our sporting precinct and the school being relocated to Bruce. Thank about it….

Just completely ignore Cricket and AFL…bigger sports than all rugby variants combined.

I don’t know that cricket and AFL are bigger than the rugby variants in the ACT, Chris. We already have a suitable venue (Manuka Oval – capacity 13.5k people) for those two sports and there are rarely (if ever) sell out crowds when interstate/international teams play there.

Chris, this is Canberra.

We don’t and won’t ever have our own AFL team and the Rugby codes are far bigger locally.

Manuka is perfectly suitable for both of them.

Clearly the bluster about the pool site only being able to fit 20000 is just an excuse because the government doesn’t want to deliver the project, they know that the cost involved us enormous and they don’t have the funds to do so.

Any site other than the existing Bruce site needs to be more centrally located to draw in crowds and achieve the economic benefits that would occur through proximity to transport and hospitality precincts.

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