24 January 2023

Is it too soon to dream of Canberra's return to the big leagues?

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra Cannons in 100-

The Canberra Cannons in 1990: between 1979 and 2003, the team took out championships in 1983, 1984 and 1988. Photo: File.

When the Cannons, Cosmos and Comets were removed from their national leagues in the early 2000s, it was forecast that it would be at least 25 years before they returned.

All three disappeared from the Canberra sporting calendar in the space of three years.

The Comets were kicked out of the One Day Mercantile Mutual Cup after the 1999/2000 season. The Cosmos were the next to go from the National Soccer League the following year, and the Cannons went into financial administration in 2003.

At the time, it appeared that Canberra’s run of having a team in almost every national league was over for the foreseeable future.

But 20 to 23 years down the track, there is optimism that all three could be resurrected.

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NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman has expressed interest in allocating the 11th NBL licence to Canberra.

But there is a caveat: he is seeking support from the ACT Government and significant improvements to the AIS Arena beyond the $15 million upgrade.

The temporary closure of the AIS Arena means that Canberra is without a mid-sized indoor arena. Photo: Tim Gavel.

AIS Arena: a $15 million upgrade is just the start to get Canberra back in the NBL. Photo: Tim Gavel.

This is understandable given the support provided to other sports in the ACT by the ACT Government, so why not the NBL?

There is a counterargument that we should focus more on improving facilities in the wake of the significant interest in people wanting to play basketball in the ACT. The theory is that because of the lack of facilities, potential players are being turned away from the sport at a community level.

The NBL will argue that the league will provide a pathway for young players in Canberra, coupled with the entertainment value of watching elite-level sport live.

There is also optimism that Canberra will be the next team in an expanded A-League Men soccer competition.

It has been 22 years since we had a men’s team in the National Soccer League, and there have been several attempts over the years to get a Canberra side off the ground.

The Professional Leagues, which runs the A-Leagues, has certainly indicated that Canberra was a strong possibility to come into the A-League Men competition.

Another positive it’s that the expansion would give Canberra Stadium greater usage during the summer months.

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ACT Cricket has been proactive in pushing a case for inclusion in the Sheffield Shield and potentially to host a Big Bash franchise.

The Comets’ demise in 2000 left an enormous hole in Canberra cricket resulting in talented young players heading elsewhere to ply their trade.

It’s a no-brainer that the ACT should be in the Shield, while a Big Bash franchise is a totally different story. It would require significant financial and community support to get off the ground.

There is obvious support for the Big Bash in Canberra, as evidenced by the 10,000 who turned out at Manuka for the game between the Thunder and the Renegades.

Manuka Oval

Manuka Oval has proven to be an excellent venue for cricket at any level. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Thunder is viewed as the de facto team for Canberrans, similar to the NBL with the Illawarra Hawks, who played a few games in Canberra in a bid to establish a relationship. Similarly, in the A-League Men’s, the Central Coast Mariners played games in the ACT.

I’m sure Canberrans would love to have their own teams in all three competitions.

Ultimately, our capability will depend on a range of factors, including sustainability, affordability, a desire from those running leagues to put a team in the ACT, and community support.

Another factor is whether the ACT Government can afford to support another three national teams financially.

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