Should all sports grounds in Canberra be closed when we have substantial rainfall?

Tim Gavel 10 August 2021 34
Gungahlin Enclosed Oval

Gungahlin Enclosed Oval … it can get a little muddy. Photo: Supplied.

A vibrant and somewhat passionate discussion is taking place in the Canberra sporting community in the wake of the constant closure of sports grounds following a winter of rainfall.

Many struggle to understand why sports grounds are being closed so regularly because of rain, impacting training and playing.

There are many questions constantly arising from these conversations: what is the rationale behind closing sports grounds? Is it a safety issue for those taking part, or is the major concern potential damage to grounds? Are all sports grounds the same? If not, why are they all closed at the same time?

Shouldn’t we let kids experience what it’s like to play in the rain, in the mud?

Southwell Park. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Southwell Park. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Having spoken to many involved in junior sport in Canberra, it appears as though frustration emanates from a combination of issues.

I have no idea whether there are more injuries in boggy, wet conditions, but we do live in a litigious society prepared to take legal action in situations such as unsafe sports grounds. So there is a certain amount of understanding in terms of this consideration, particularly if there is good data substantiating closures due to safety concerns.

Another consideration is the damage created to the playing surface through activities such as rugby league and rugby union when the ground is saturated.

Rugby union played at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval.

Rugby union training at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval. Photo: Tim Gavel.

If you ever need evidence of the impact of play on a soggy playing surface, look no further than the state of the Gungahlin Enclosed Oval, which was opened in 2014 at a cost of $12 million (I’m not sure how much was spent on drainage).

The facility has four tenants comprising Gungahlin teams in AFL, soccer, rugby union and rugby league.

Because of the state of the playing surface, it’s impossible to play soccer there at the moment. As such, Gungahlin United won’t be playing at this ground for the rest of the season.

Nicholls Enclosed Oval. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Nicholls Enclosed Oval is used by the Gungahlin Eagles. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The Gungahlin Eagles, a club that I am currently involved with, play their home games at Nicholls Enclosed Oval, which has been significantly impacted by wet weather this season.

The Eagles have presented a petition to the ACT Government calling for funding for improvements such as drainage as the facility is used by a number of sports juniors and seniors year-round.

The solution would appear to be simple.

Money needs to be spent on drainage to make the playing fields usable during wet periods. It should be a priority.

The demand for Canberra’s sporting facilities has never been greater. We can ill afford to have grounds across the ACT continually closed because of wet weather. This season of high rainfall will happen again (and again), so surely we should look to future-proof our facilities so they can be used as intended.


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34 Responses to Should all sports grounds in Canberra be closed when we have substantial rainfall?
Corey Johnston Corey Johnston 2:09 am 15 Aug 21

For juniors yes

John Byrne John Byrne 10:53 am 14 Aug 21

This year’s weather is an exception to the rule. It’s hardly been an issue before and don’t expect it again for a while.

Diana Kearns Diana Kearns 10:45 am 14 Aug 21

I agree we lived in Victoria when our kids played AFL & ovals were open. Kids need to play in wet conditions as well. As a parent it was a nuisance.

Richie Phillips Richie Phillips 9:12 am 14 Aug 21

Well said Tim. having a 15yo who plays AFL, we have had to deal with issue first hand. I understand the costs of upgrade, but surely when it is hard enough to keep our young people off their devices we need better facilities to ensure if they want to play sport and keep for they can. I strongly object to the comment regarding is only recreation. Sport builds fitness, team work, communication and a sense of belonging. If there was no sport we would need even more government services to deal with an increasing obesity problem.

Ken Di Pede Ken Di Pede 5:43 pm 13 Aug 21

If they ruin the fields who pays for the maintenance to fix them, will it be the sporting clubs that played on them ?

Charles Landwehr Charles Landwehr 1:44 pm 12 Aug 21

Damn people its part of being a carbon based unit living on an organo mineralised rock in a solar system. Why would anyone think that it is necessary to provide all weather artificial surfaces for any sporting activity. Sports are a recreation activity, not an essential part of existence. Sure bad weather upsets the schedule of events and can lead to a manufactured end of season winner. But who cares, you are playing for sport and recreation, not sheep stations. Spend our tax's on schools and hospitals, not on grounds used by so very few. Yep the closure of the grounds to protect the surface for future play outweighs your desire to pay one game that deprives many of future use of the grounds.

JS9 JS9 11:13 am 12 Aug 21

Need a rolling program to install more synthetic fields for those sports that can make use of them – big upfront outlay but good payback, in terms of increased ability to be used in inclement weather, and also reduce stress on fields that need to be natural turf for other sports.

Kali Kali 8:27 am 12 Aug 21

Yep – more synthetic pitches needed. A bit of an outlay to establish them but after that, maintenance costs are lower than grass fields and they can be used in all kinds of weather and all day long without the ‘wear and tear’ that grass fields suffer. Has been the norm in Europe for the last couple of decades and now Sydney is starting to follow suite….maybe time for Canberra to do the same?

Loretta Hately Loretta Hately 7:01 am 12 Aug 21

More synthetic pitches for soccer!!

Jane Curry Jane Curry 11:49 pm 11 Aug 21

Close for training but keep open for matches the kids are missing too many games of winter sports.

John Elliott John Elliott 6:59 pm 11 Aug 21

Tim's idea will be extremely hard to implement because the useless ACT Labor Party and their equally useless Government do not have the Horticultural or Turf Management skills within their ranks and also because of them most of the people who had those skills have left Canberra.

GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 3:49 pm 11 Aug 21

Now admittedly, I’m talking about last century, but I remember playing footy (I’m from SA, so AFL) on a particular ground which was so muddy after a night of rain, at the end of the game, some guys would simply walk into the showers wearing their whole kit (including boots) to clean the mud off. Even worse, was playing the week after the ground was a quagmire, as there were sections (particularly the centre, which doubled as the cricket pitch in summer) of hard dried mud – certainly took a fair bit of skin off if you happened to be unfortunate to come to ground. However, these days, ovals in general have better drainage, etc. but if we are talking grounds that are virtually unplayable because of the mud, perhaps the duty of care principle does come into play. I know it’s a bit ‘nanny state-ish’, but as the author comments, in this litigous age ….

    Heavs Heavs 4:30 pm 11 Aug 21

    Did you play AFL for the Crows or the Power?

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 4:44 pm 11 Aug 21

    Heavs, neither – came to Canberra in 1990, by which time my amateur league days were well and truly behind me. If you happen to know Adelaide, the oval to which I’m referring was at (then) Murray Park CAE.

    Heavs Heavs 10:36 am 12 Aug 21

    Just my pedant gripe, but AFL is the elite tier of the Australian Rules code of football. I notice Tim doesn’t say his kids play for the Gungahlin Eagles Super Rugby Club. Or the Gungahlin United EPL club have had to move the rest of their games.

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 5:50 pm 13 Aug 21

    Going to have to bow to your superior knowledge on that one, Heavs, as I have no skin in the game in relation to kids’ sport.

Mark Hareb Mark Hareb 12:30 pm 11 Aug 21

Soccer and rugby are WINTER sports. The fields should be suitable and kept up to scratch. No brainer.

    Glenn Hareb Glenn Hareb 8:56 am 15 Aug 21

    Mark Amen to that 👍Same problem in South Auckland, Nz , councils shut grounds ,so they don't have to maintain them consistently through winter.

jdr1 jdr1 11:48 am 11 Aug 21

The answer is yes.

It’s be great if this small minority of moaners acknowledged that it’s been the wettest Winter for a number of years.

These are likely the same people who at other times enjoy a whinge about poor field quality.

I’ve yet to see anyone suggesting that field hire fees be increased to cover at least a small part of the cost of the upgrades they’re demanding.

Or perhaps substantial fines should be levied on sports and clubs that damage fields and expect them to be perfect the next time around?

Brian Ashcroft Brian Ashcroft 11:20 am 11 Aug 21

If you have about $100m to spend (and it would take 20 years as you cannot take many out of play at a time to do major remedial works), you could convert all of them to full sand based field with drainage-OR, you could continue on as we have done for the last 100yrs (former section head of Sportsgrounds Maintenance and Management.

Mark Slater Mark Slater 10:26 am 11 Aug 21

The solution is that the ACT Government needs to upgrade the drainage of all community fields which are currently used for sport and where drainage is currently inadequate. Many grounds have become unplayable this winter, denying kids and adults the opportunity to train and play. The pay-off for this infrastructure investment by the government will be wide-ranging: participants will get better value for the registration and other costs associated with different sports; grounds will be easier to maintain and repair more quickly after heavy rain; health and fitness levels across the community, with the flow on social and economic benefits, will be maintained; Canberra will be able to continue to attract national and international sporting events; and non-sport users will be able to enjoy use of the grounds year round. Fixing the grounds will also reduce the ACT Government’s potential exposure to litigation. Of course the cost of fixing ground drainage will be higher and this cost might be ultimately paid by the community in hire fees etc. but the cost of doing nothing will be much greater.

    Heavs Heavs 10:48 am 11 Aug 21

    As day follows night any ground which has millions spent on upgrading the drainage will also have a fence put around it, stopping regular community users from using them unless they pay the hire fee.

Heavs Heavs 9:53 am 11 Aug 21

Fixing up fields is expensive. The cost to make upgrades to these fields would be passed on through increased ground hire charges, making the game even more unaffordable for families with multiple kids playing.

Rob Gill Rob Gill 9:03 am 11 Aug 21

Improvements by all means but no synthetic surfaces. Hawker enclosed a shadow of its former grassy self. And the plovers don't nest there any more, which made for some interesting matches.

Elizabeth Samantha Elizabeth Samantha 8:45 am 11 Aug 21

yes, they turn into mud fields and it becomes really hard to play on

Kevin Hodder Kevin Hodder 8:06 am 11 Aug 21

Lol what you going make them all under cover? Because that's the only way that would ever happen

    Camo Maher Camo Maher 8:46 am 11 Aug 21

    Kevin Hodder not the only way mate, simply changing the drainage so if flows away from the fields and not pooling on them would make a world of difference.

    Kevin Hodder Kevin Hodder 8:52 am 11 Aug 21

    Camo Maher doesn't matter what drainage you have if you use them wet they get torn up, best fields in the best stadiums get torn up in the wet and and they only get used once every couple of weeks, our local grounds are used daily by multiple sports training and playing,

    Max Welch Max Welch 9:29 am 11 Aug 21

    Camo Maher Drainage can really work. ADFA have some pitches that have great drainage, and I played on them the other week. It was a bog everywhere else but the pitch was relatively dry.

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