As you look across Canberra and witness the collective return to sport post-COVID-19, there is a feeling that a sense of normality is returning.
Most of us, after all, have grown up with the ability to play sport generally whenever facilities and competitions are available. For many, it is an important aspect of life in Canberra. The expectation is that it will always be there.
Below the surface, though, there are issues brewing which have the potential to impact on this apparent utopia.
Some clubs are struggling with their financial viability in the wake of COVID-19 because of the resultant significant revenue downturn through lack of registrations and sponsorship.
Another emerging impact has the potential to be the most significant of them all: the cost of water in Canberra.
Already we have seen the problems experienced by the Magpies-Belconnen Golf Club and the impact of high water costs.
The club uses treated water supplied by the government-owned Icon Water Limited. The increasing cost from Icon Water could result in the club closing by the middle of next year.
It is an issue being faced by operators of other facilities in Canberra.
The Phillip Oval Management Group administers the sporting facility that includes the headquarters for both ACT Cricket and AFL Canberra. Because of the presence of both cricket and AFL, the ground is used all year.
The cost of water to ensure the standard of the playing surface is maintained, has risen to around $75,000 in the past 12 months, which is around 45 per cent of its operating budget.
Paul Walshe is the chair of the Phillip Oval Management Group. He says the high cost of water is effectively stopping plans for improvements to the facility.
“We want to improve the infrastructure around the ground but it’s hard when you are paying so much for water. You are limited in what you can do.”
He says there are plans to stage AFLW games and Women’s Big Bash matches at Philip Oval.
Walshe, who knows the utilities industry better than most, having worked for ACTEW for many years, is bemused by Icon Water’s pricing policy particularly when applied to water for community facilities.
“I think we need to look at why we pay so much for water here compared to other jurisdictions,” Paul said.
In South Australia, the government-owned SA Water has provided grants to sports organisations struggling financially because of COVID-19.
Paul Walshe says he has spoken with Icon Water about the impact of the cost of water on the running of the facility.
He says the management group has done everything possible to reduce costs and says it’s now up to Icon Water.
“Icon Water needs to be working more closely with community groups,” he said.
Hopefully commonsense prevails.