Grass from Cairns: recalling the infamous Bruce Stadium incident of 2000

Tim Gavel 8 September 2020 11
The Tigers took on the Raiders in snow

The famous snow game between the Tigers and the Raiders. Photo:

The drama that shrouded the hosting of 11 football games as part of the Sydney Olympics 20 years ago at Bruce Stadium, as it was known then, deserves a mini-series.

In 1997 the ACT secured the rights to host 11 of the 48 men’s and women’s football matches to be played during the Sydney Olympics.

Canberra was awarded a double-header to be played, almost to this day, 20 years ago on 13 September. It included the Matildas taking on Germany.

What followed in the wake of the announcement was a major redevelopment of the Stadium including work on the eastern grandstand, the roof of both grandstands, the dropping of the playing surface, and turning the ground into a rectangle.

While the funding of the redevelopment was newsworthy, the resurfacing of the playing area took on a lead role in its own media drama.

The resurfacing was delayed because the Raiders made the semi-finals in 2000. That was the season of the famous snow game at Bruce Stadium in late May. Clearly, preparations were not going well.

After the surface was re-laid on 8 August, the ensuing 15-minute inspection by the Sydney Olympics Organising Committee (SOCOG) later in the month set in motion a course of events that still resonates to this day.

The playing surface was declared unsafe. The re-laid grass was dying and not fit for competition. It hit the headlines when it was revealed the grass was grown in Cairns, in tropical North Queensland conditions, and suffered thermal shock when transferred to Canberra’s cooler temperatures.

SOCOG Vice President John Coates suggested that if it wasn’t rectified Canberra was in danger of losing the right to host games.

Coates said at the time, “The ACT Government had the responsibility in selecting the replacement turf from Cairns against our advice.”

There was further commentary around the safety requirements for players and that FIFA was taking a close interest in what was happening in Canberra.

Facing a race against time, when you consider the double header was scheduled for 13 September, the ground was re-laid.

And the playing surface was back in the news again because of revelations that sections of the re-laid grass were painted green prior to the inspection by Olympic officialdom.

This prompted an exchange in the ACT Assembly with the opposition’s Ted Quinlan suggesting it was akin to operating Floriade with plastic flowers.

It was then explained that painting dead patches of grass green was a common practice, although it was news to many and it is still a topic of discussion 20 years later.

On 13 September, Bruce Stadium hosted a double-header with almost 25,000 people turning out to watch the Australian women’s team playing Germany, while the USA faced the Czech Republic.

By this stage, everyone had an opinion about growing grass in Canberra.

While this event illustrated the dangers of trying to grow grass from Cairns in Canberra, it also demonstrated a ‘can do’ approach from those involved to ensure the ACT’s role in the Sydney Olympics was preserved.

This definitely ranks as one of Canberra football’s biggest moments, alongside the drama of the Asian Cup game between Iran and Iraq in 2015.

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11 Responses to Grass from Cairns: recalling the infamous Bruce Stadium incident of 2000
Paul Rutherford Paul Rutherford 10:06 pm 11 Sep 20

Remember this well was completing a Basic Fitness Test for the army around the lake and thought to myself if I fall in I am dead. It was weird because you wanted to flat out sprint the whole way as it warmed you up.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:09 am 11 Sep 20

ACT Labor were in charge when Actew declared losses of over $60 million invested in Transact Communications. They followed up with another multi-million investment lost in the Better Place scam.

ACT Labor were in charge when millions of dollars (exact amount never revealed) in the ill-fated Rhodium Asset Solutions finance company.

ACT Labor were in charge when the money pit and tree plantation/theme park near the Glenloch interchange was created. Onece again, the costs to date and ongoing are never revealed.

I am sure there were other financial disasters that “popped up”.

    JS9 JS9 2:05 pm 11 Sep 20

    So in short, doesn’t matter who is elected, they’ll do dumb things in office. Same at every level of Government.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:08 pm 11 Sep 20

    ACT Labor have been continuously in power for 20 years though so isn’t it time the Liberals were given a go at trumping the “Cairns-turf” fiasco?

John Moulis John Moulis 10:18 am 09 Sep 20

And don’t forget how the scathing report into the whole incident was released to the media on the night of Cathy Freeman’s classic gold medal race at the Sydney Olympics just as Cathy was lining up to start.

Kate Carnell and co hoped that the report would be buried in the coverage of Cathy’s gold medal the next day but The Canberra Times headlined it as the main front page story above the fold next to a large picture of Cathy winning the race with a headline in italics above her picture. Kate Carnell resigned as Chief Minister shortly after.

Tori Hennig Tori Hennig 9:44 am 09 Sep 20

It sounds like an episode of Utopia.

    John Harding John Harding 8:13 pm 09 Sep 20

    Many of the things the ACT government does these days are like episodes of Utopia. And the Liberals are no better. Promising a freeze on rates and lower taxes but better services. Magic pudding economics straight out of utopia.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:33 pm 09 Sep 20

    The Liberals were in charge when we painted the grass green and blew up the hospital. It wasn't the ACT's finest moments in the late 90's til 2001.

Adam Vinning Adam Vinning 9:27 am 09 Sep 20

My Dad ‘built’ Bruce Stadium twice, first when it was the Athletics track for the AIS, and then the upgrade for the Olympics. Yes, the whole grass was a bit of a debacle.

JS9 JS9 9:23 am 09 Sep 20

It still makes me laugh 2 decades later that how fiasco.

That Iran – Iraq fixture in the Asian Cup was something else though. I’ve been to a lot of football games around the world in various competitions, but that one still ranks right up there.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 11:29 am 09 Sep 20

    Yep Iran Iraq was a classic. What an atmosphere. Up there with Raiders Souths last year and a few big Raiders games back in the 90s.

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