The proponents of a new stadium in Canberra are many and vocal.
Their argument is fair enough on some levels: Bruce Stadium is old and tired, the parking and travel is terrible, the food is expensive and there’s little to attract sports fans, much less larger fixtures, to the area beyond home matches for the Brumbies and Raiders.
Wouldn’t it be exciting to have a brand-new facility in the middle of town, close to accommodation and restaurants, and surely a huge tourist driver?
Well, yes. We all yearn for things that are bright and shiny and the thought of league or union games packed with vocal locals in a lovely new stadium is appealing (putting aside often dismal footy crowd numbers hovering between 5000 and 10,000).
But at the most there would be perhaps 24 fixtures a year. They won’t all sell out and the facility would sit idle for many days in between.
It doesn’t stack up as an investment for a cash-strapped government and the Bruce redevelopment is all sports fans can realistically hope for.
Commenters and politicians are very fond of comparing government spending with household budgets. A brand-new city stadium is the equivalent of serving up eye fillet to the family every night instead of mince. Nice if you can get it, but an unreasonable and unnecessary expense for most ordinary people.
The ACT Government’s major infrastructure priority is the new Canberra Theatre, due to begin construction within the next year and with a seating capacity of 2000 in addition to the current Playhouse and a redeveloped old theatre and courtyard.
The Canberra Theatre’s current program is packed to the gills and the new theatre will provide multiple opportunities to bring large shows to the ACT. They’ll attract a steady, substantial regional audience for weeks and months at a time, at a considerably higher price point than tickets to the footy and with appeal to a broad slice of Canberra’s population.
But there’s another angle to this argument that’s often missed.
The vast majority of people are neither elite sports players nor regular game attendees. It’s more likely they’ll be driving their kids to netball or soccer grounds, booking space for a tennis match or volleyball game with friends or finding somewhere for a scratch basketball game.
But these are exactly the community facilities that are missing or broken in Canberra.
Netball is the most frequently played women’s sport in Australia. Almost every woman in the country has pulled on a bib at some point and had a go at Goal Shooter, Centre or Goal Defence (my old position in Year Five at Quandialla Central School, 1978).
There are 90,000 people in Gungahlin, most of them young families – and not a single public netball court anywhere closer than Lyneham. Courts are similarly scare on the ground in the south.
If you’d like to play badminton, good luck: facilities book out as soon as they open up. If you’re a basketball player, you’ll need to travel to either Belconnen or Tuggeranong for a club match in this city of 450,000 people. At sports grounds across Canberra, toilets are damaged and changing rooms need renovation.
As the city densifies, fewer people have big backyards and accessible play spaces for children, especially those living in inner city apartment blocks. But an active community is a healthy community and we’re lucky enough to enjoy good (if cold) weather and fresh air in the bush capital.
It makes significantly more economic and social sense to invest in building and fixing local sports amenities across the Territory than dreaming about a shiny city stadium at vast expense and little real utility.
The redevelopment plans at Bruce will deliver something acceptable and enjoyable, at a price we can afford.
Could the Civic stadium advocates turn their attention to fixing the toilet blocks, repairing the grass, building the netball courts and ensuring their kids can play basketball instead? They’d have a sporting chance of getting somewhere with that agenda.