2 March 2022

We're at crisis point: the ACT needs a sports facilities strategy

| Tim Gavel
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AIS Arena

AIS Arena isn’t an option for major sports events, including the UC Caps finals games. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The frustration expressed by the UC Capitals over the lack of a facility in the ACT to play WNBL finals games has been echoed over the years by many sports organisations.

With the AIS Arena being utilised as a COVID vaccination hub and in urgent need of repair, and the National Convention Centre unavailable for the finals, which take place from 23 March to 9 April, what is available for the UC Caps?

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Effectively, the nine-time champions, our very own Capitals, are without a home court to play finals games.

So do they relocate to Wollongong or Sydney for home finals? This is an embarrassing situation for Canberra’s sporting image. And it’s not as if we didn’t see this coming.

But the lack of an adequate facility for the UC Caps is just the tip of the iceberg.

UC Capitals at AIS Arena

The UC Capitals in 2019 playing against the Adelaide Lightning at the AIS Arena. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

Super Netball is also looking at expansion, with another four teams to be added in 2027. The Gold Coast, Tasmania, Newcastle and regional Victoria are among the leading contenders for a team in the expanded series.

Some years ago, there was talk of Canberra being in the mix. The idea was to have a Canberra-based team in the Super Netball, with big crowds to watch the national team and the occasional Super Netball game at the AIS Arena.

But there’s no mention of Canberra in the current speculation. We are well and truly off the radar.

The 2027 Rugby World Cup bid committee has already stated its concerns that Canberra Stadium isn’t fit for purpose. This is disappointing as Australia is set to host the Rugby World Cup in 2027 after being installed as the preferred candidate by the Rugby World Council.

But with new stadiums going up across the country, Canberra was always going to be on the back foot.

Canberra Stadium/GIO isn’t for purpose for World Cup Rugby games. Photo: Supplied.

The ACT was never going to meet the cost of securing games for the 2023 Women’s Football World Cup, but the lack of a decent facility made it virtually impossible.

There are two live bids for a Canberra A League licence, and both will struggle to get past first base without a new stadium.

The Capitals have spoken about the threat to their growth without a facility that fully caters to their supporters. Clearly, that pain is also being felt by many other sports across the ACT.

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Thanks Johnathan Davies, nice thought however you would think the ACT Government would have plans for updating and building to replace aging infrastructure. They are quick to get their photo with successful teams and claim sportspeople as ‘Canberra’s Own’ but less forthcoming with the funding (excluding occasional sponsorship) to continue the success and Canberra profile lifting of sporting teams and individuals.

The AIS (including Bruce Stadium) is owned by the Commonwealth Government (or us taxpayers) and they haven’t invested $$ or ugraded any of the facilties there since it was built. So they also need to pay for anything new or upgraded.

New sports venues need to be triaged with a multi-purpose venue being at the top of the list. It has to be big enough to provide functionality over 52 weeks of the year. At the same time it needs to be versatile enough to cater to as many functions as possible without cross blocking events/games through booking clashes. It also needs to be a source of ongoing revenue for as many weeks a year as possible. A convention centre/major stadium setup would be limited to adult usage and the fickle nature of professional sports fans would more than likely see it under attended from season to season. Attracting ‘big games’ would be sporadic as promoters want to go to bigger population centres. Conventioneers, especially from overseas, want the Gold Coast or Sydney for out of convention time activities. Concerts would be sporadic as well. My suggestion is to cover or tear down and rebuild a covered GIO stadium for footy and concerts as well as build an Indoor Sports Centre/s primarily for Basketball/VolleyBall(with numerous attached courts….already desperately short in ACT) and Ice Sports/Skating(2 sheets) complex with a 25000 seat stadium for Pro games/concerts and that long promised Theatre complex included, in Gungahlin(still got land near CBD), which is already connected to light rail and near me. And a terrarium in the foyer….I’m catering for all political persuasions. A consistent revenue producing project catering to kids and adults in all seasons.

Vinson1Bernie3:02 pm 02 Mar 22

Adelaide Oval/ Marvel Stadium/Perth stadium led the way with 52 weeks use as a sports/convention centre/food/entertainment/casino interface for tourist (SFS trying to do the same) so needs to be in City Centre but will undercut Convention Centre. Tough decisions

Best of luck to the Capitals. If they have to play outside the ACT I hope they can fill a convoy of supporters buses. I have fond memories of their grand final win in front of a packed out Bruce indoor stadium, just before COVID has us locked up at home. It was a fantastic night of entertainment, reminiscent of the crowds that used to turn up regularly for the Canberra Cannons (you’ll have to ask your parents who they were).

Check out the facilities in Australia’s marginal seats. I don’t entirely blame our local government for the dreadful lack of indoor and outdoor facilities, the Feds make significant contributions to support these things if they are going to be built in ‘the right places’. Canberra has lost teams and major events have drifted elsewhere because our facilities can’t match it with those in Western Sydney, NSW North Coast or the Gold Coast. That said, the Matildas are playing NZ in Canberra next month, so let’s pack out that Stadium!

Capital Retro5:47 pm 01 Mar 22

The ACT Government chooses to spend the bulk of its sport budget on GWS games and cricket matches at Manuka Oval (it still doesn’t appear to have a sponsor/naming right). None of these teams are Canberra based.

The amount of money spent at Manuka for the convenience of a very small percentage of our sport followers is scandalous.

The government also funds sporting teams through CBR and appears to assist CU with their sport sponsorships.

We can’t afford a new stadium to appease the Canberra Capitals and their 5,000 odd followers.

The sporting facility challenges are clear for everyone to see in Canberra.

But we are disadvantaged by many factors:
1) the perilous state of the ACT Budget – I’m not going to go into the arguments around that, but it is a key factor.
2) The relatively small market Canberra represents – and the challenges that can create for providing a return on investment (especially for a Stadium)
3) the fact Canberra is not a marginal seat, never really has been and never really will be – as a political town, we should recognise that is critical -> outside of Australia hosting a really major event where there is a big dollop of $ around to deliver new stadiums, its always going to be hard to get much input from the Commonwealth towards costs.

However, noting all that – that is no excuse for the ongoing mess around upkeep and maintenance of AIS arena (outside of its role as a covid vaccination hub), and Canberra Stadium really should have been handed over properly to the ACT Government at some point.

The only way I can see anything happening on a stadium is if some form of sweetheart deal is done (perhaps as part of wider reforms to AIS/its holdings) that would see land pass to the ACT Government that can, surprise surprise, be developed (i.e. stadium site or other surplus parts of AIS space), and then contributed towards the in the city dream stadium site.

Not sure how to solve the AIS Arena issue longer term – but suggest any purpose built facility (unless the AIS is completely closed) is even further down the ladder compared to a new stadium.

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