Wagga residents, Canberra Raiders furious about GWS grant
Rhys Cooyou of the GWS Giants (Slattery Images)
Last week, Wagga Wagga residents and the Canberra Raiders were fuming when they learnt that the Wagga City Council will grant the Greater Western Sydney Giants $300,000 over three years.
In return, GWS will play pre-season games in the region, along with community camps and other projects.
Robertson Oval will be used as one of the locations for GWS Giants’ academy centre.
Many in the Wagga community argue that this could have all been done for free and that the AFL should be putting something back into the community.
Readers of Wagga’s Daily Advertiser weren’t happy.
“Joke! The AFL is the richest sport in Australia. Last TV rights deal was for $1.2 billion, plus huge amount of sponsorship money,” Michael wrote.
“Terrible use of our rate-payer money. With so many other great causes desperately crying out for funds I am deeply offended by this council decision and the AFL’s arrogance. The AFL should be giving back to the Riverina, not expecting rate-payer handouts to do so. Arrogant of the AFL and will turn me off attending any games,” greedwins cried.
“How about the AFL spend some of their vast riches on the local community rather than taking money or do they not care enough for that?” Emma suggested.
“Why do I as a rate payer have to pay for a rich sports expansion and promotion?” Jodie complained.
“The AFL has no conscience,” Damo lamented.
“The AFL are so up themselves that it is not funny. No respect for anyone or any other sport,” balletwithaball added.
A few in the minority, however, appreciated the council’s help to GWS.
“Honestly, would anyone pay for NRL? The empty stadiums in its Sydney ‘heartland’ show how popular it is,” Tom G noted.
“300k is nothing over three years, the insecurity is all yours, RL fans are just whingers it seems,” Lars added.
In a poll conducted by the Daily Advertiser, only 29% of people were in favour of the council giving the grant to GWS, while 71% disagreed with it.
The Canberra Raiders have also greeted the news with disdain.
Raiders boss Don Furner is keen to find out why this agreement has taken place.
”We’ve not put our hand out, and to be brutally honest it highlights how mercenary the AFL is, they’re very aggressive.”
For three decades, the Raiders have been playing pre-season games and nurturing the young talent coming through from the Riverina with no financial reward.
The region has produced current players like Glen Buttris and Josh McCrone and past greats like Laurie Daley, Luke Davico and Brett Mullins.
If anything, the Raiders can claim they bring something back to the community.
”If we take a kid from the Riverina and bring him into our system, we have to pay a $5000 development fee and that money goes straight back into country rugby league,” Furner said.
”The reasons why clubs like us and the Bulldogs take games out to the country is that it gives that regions a chance to make some money,” he continued.
The Raiders played the Bulldogs in a pre-season trial in February, which helped raised over $40,000.
The money has been used to improve facilities at Wagga’s multi-sport complex Equex Centre.
It’s not the first time Furner has taken a swipe at the AFL and GWS. Earlier in the year, Furner labelled GWS a joke after GWS signed a $26 million deal to play four games a season in Canberra over the next ten years.
Meanwhile, Canberra’s two full-time teams – the Canberra Raiders and the A.C.T Brumbies – are playing out of an ageing Canberra stadium, which is in need of upgraded facilities.
Meanwhile, NRL CEO David Gallop was perplexed by this situation.
“It is certainly an unusual step for a council to invest in a Sydney AFL club that already boasts publicly about its financial backing.”
Of course it’s not the first time GWS has caused a political storm over funding.
In November 2009, then-NSW premier Nathan Rees said it would be “a waste of money” to invest in an AFL stadium at the Sydney Showgrounds in Homebush.
A month later he was deposed as leader of the NSW ALP and was replaced by Kristina Keneally.
In June 2010, the NSW governement – headed by the new premier – agreed to help fund the Sydney Showgrounds. This would later become Skoda Stadium.
The AFL has by far the best sports-run administration in Australia. But according to majority of the readers from The Daily Advertiser, the AFL and GWS come across as greedy and arrogant.
The AFL is in its early stages of a five-year $1.25 billion television deal.
It also has sponsorship, along with record club memberships.
The AFL is swimming in cash. Does it need more from a rural council?
The NRL, on the other hand, might take the moral high ground by not asking or getting any grants from Wagga City Council.
But again, it demonstrates how the AFL is very strong in negotiations with politicians of all levels, whether it be federal, state or council (local) level.
The NRL struggles to get funds to help upgrade grounds like Brookvale Oval, while the AFL manages to get money from a Wagga rural council of all places.
The NRL has to become proactive, not reactive, and should stop blaming others for their shortfall.
As for GWS Giants, the team at the centre of this controversy, who do they stand for?
Who do they represent?
Are they from West Sydney, Canberra, or Wagga?
The Giants have a base at Blacktown.
They play their home matches at Homebush (Skoda and ANZ Stadiums) and Manuka Oval in Canberra.
They get good financial deals from playing matches in Canberra and now they have this deal with the Wagga City Council.
If GWS play home matches in Canberra, why don’t they incorporate the Canberra name in GWS?
I believe they should do that, other wise it does look like GWS is using the money from Canberra for their own interests.
However, the best option for the Giants is to play all of their home matches at Skoda Stadium, full time.
Otherwise former premier Rees would have a point in saying that Skoda stadium was “a waste of money”.
Finally, and more importantly, if the GWS Giants want to gain respect from Wagga residents and West Sydney fans alike, the simple honourable thing they should do is decline the $300,000 grant from Wagga City Council.
They should do all the pre-season matches and community camps for free.
If they do that, they might win praise from the readers of The Daily Advertiser.
The real lesson to come out of this is the major sporting codes, such as AFL, NRL, ARU, FFA, and Cricket Australia, should always listen to the community.
Otherwise the politicians won’t be the only ones that pay the price.