26 March 2024

Canberra United is an asset worth saving - let's hope it doesn't come to that

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra United. Photo: Canberra United Facebook.

Canberra United is under threat. Photo: Canberra United Facebook.

It’s hard to comprehend how Canberra United could be in danger of being no more.

It’s also difficult to gain a complete understanding of exactly how we have come to this point.

Canberra United, two-time champions and a foundation club in the original W-League (now A-League Women), appears to be caught in the middle of uncertainty.

The Australian Professional Leagues are attempting to secure a financial backer for an A-League Men licence in Canberra.

That is no small ask, with the APL seeking $25 million for a licence for the new club. Thanks to a billionaire backer, Auckland will be one of the new expansion teams after coming up with the funds.

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In Canberra’s case, finding a similar backer has so far proven elusive. Sources tell us almost every week that an announcement is imminent, but nothing has happened, resulting in pessimism about the required funding.

The problem for Canberra United is the APL’s assertion that the licence for the A-League Men also includes taking over the running of the women’s A-League program.

Capital Football has been the financial backer of Canberra United since 2008, but there appears to be uncertainty over Capital Football’s ongoing commitment due to rising costs.

It’s noteworthy that Canberra United is the only team in the A-League funded by a state or territory association. All other clubs are run by an A-League licensee, which also operates a men’s side. So Canberra United is swimming in a sea of uncertainty.

The ACT Government has already been approached about its appetite to put more funds into Canberra United if there is no A-League Men’s licence and Capital Football cannot commit to the team’s financial backing.

The government’s response is that it already contributes $250,000 to the Canberra United program and has made no commitment to put more ACT Government money into the team.

Ashleigh Sykes. Photo: File.

Ashleigh Sykes took to social media to express the frustration of many with the current situation. Photo: File.

Former Canberra United and Matilda’s player Ashleigh Sykes went on social media to express her frustration at the impasse, expressing frustration at the level of government funding for the A-League Women team when compared to the funding allocated to the Greater Western Sydney AFL team.

She wrote: “Certain it’s not just players but also fans of Canberra United who would like to see movement on this soon. Indecision and lack of direction has seemingly left this foundation club and a mainstay of the women’s game in a difficult position. Frustrating. Won’t participate in bidding for the massively successful home WWC [Women’s World Cup] that finished eight months ago, or increase investment in a local team off the back of that. Will continue to pay about 2.8m a year for an AFL team to play three games in Canberra.”

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If Canberra United were to fold, it would be a travesty, not just for women’s football in the ACT but also for the wider sporting community in the region.

It would create the impression that, as a community, we have been unable to support one of our most successful women’s sporting teams.

As a community, we have taken pride in the success of our women’s sporting teams and it has contributed to the psyche of the city.

If Canberra United is wound up, what would happen to the pathway for young players? Will they be forced to relocate to chase their aspirations?

When the Canberra Raiders faced financial stress in 1991, the ‘Save the Raiders’ fund was launched. The community and businesses dug deep to secure the team’s future.

Perhaps similar action may be called for to save Canberra United. As a community asset, we can’t afford to lose it.

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Capital Retro9:57 am 01 Apr 24

I’m confused because I have seen the letters CU everywhere. These letters also mean Canberra University which is no coincidence because they seem to come up with money for other sporting teams.

The acronym is UC for University of Canberra. No one uses CU or Canberra University.

greensareliars8:44 pm 31 Mar 24

The Barr governments lavishing near a million dollars a game on a professional sports team just because he prefers their code, while leaving other sports in Canberra to wither on the vine is just one reason out of many why Canberrans should vote for anybody but Labor next local elections.

This comes down to whether a professional team (Canberra United) should be funded partly by the registration fees of juniors. Tickets sales, sponsorships and government grants won’t get the funding needed ($1.25 mil, which for a squad of 20 players plus 5 staff plying 20+ games all over Aust sounds cheap). So should the shortfall in the funding needed to run Canberra United be made up by higher rego fees paid by juniors?

Stephen Saunders2:32 pm 28 Mar 24

Thanks Tim. As usual, Football Australia is nowhere to be seen, la la, nothing to do with us, ask APL or Capital Football.

FA hates Canberra, always has. They’d rather have 50 teams in Sydney and Melbourne than one or two in Canberra.

Well, do your worst, FA, as usual. But I will never support, a Canberra men’s team that destroys the much-loved Canberra women’s team.

FA has nothing to do with the A-League anymore, and that’s a decision made by the franchises and the franchises themselves. It’s not the FA’s fault that the APL is so mismanaged.

It would create the impression that, as a community, we have been unable to support one of our most successful women’s sporting teams.

It’s NOT an impression. It’s reality. Canberra United averaged 1600 Home Game attendees in their 12 Home Games this season. Take out boyfriends, girl friends, family members and other friends and you’d be flat out getting 1000 non-affiliated fans at HOME games. This is at a time of the year when there is no competition for fans. The Socceroos will draw a crowd as was the case at GIO on Tuesday. The Matildas will draw a crowd……but not as big as last year if Sam Kerr is out. The A League Mens has dismal attendance figures. Australians like playing soccer but they have proven year after year that they won’t watch club soccer. It’s probably more a sporting cultural cringe in that we have been conditioned to accept that the EPL, La Liga and Serie A is worth watching but the A Leagues are really B Leagues at best.

The football pathway for young women in the region no longer exists. With the cancelling of the Canberra United Academy, there has already been a move, by some families of talented youngsters to Sydney and beyond. I don;t think Canberra can be considered an incubator for young football talent anymore.

You are right, both male and female football players in Canberra don’t have a pathway to the A League or to become professional.

Like you said, many have moved to Sydney etc, but there are many that are left behind and stuck in a pay to play system which many struggle to afford.

I know of kids that have moved back to the UK with their families and have been picked up by Professional Clubs academies.

We do have the talent here, just not the opportunities.

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