Needs of the many against loyalty to a sport: Sydney’s stadium upgrade dilemma

Steve Mascord Columnist

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    I always had a slight problem with the Papua New Guinea government putting so much money into rugby league.

    In a country which lacks many basic services, can you justify a reported $1 million per game to attract the World Cup – or the hundreds of thousands that have no doubt been paid in consultancy fees associated with the sport over the years?

    How much of governing is about keeping people happy (so they might vote for you again) and how much is about providing the core services we expect from our tax dollars?

    But it always seemed an esoteric argument, restricted to the developing world.

    That was until colleague Peter FitzSimons tweeted that he was starting a petition against the rebuilding of Sydney’s stadia.

    I instinctively retweeted – I was intrigued by the whole idea that people could be opposed to these things that, in my world, enjoy unanimous support.

    As is the way on social media, many people attacked Fitzy and others who agree with him – like Mike Carlton – as wanting to “keep rugby league down”. Since rugby league is the major benefactor of these stadium upgrades, and Peter, in particular, is strongly aligned with the rival code he played internationally, then I can see how these conclusions can be reached.

    But given my own misgivings about Papua New Guinea, I can also imagine arriving at the conclusions altruistically. Surely this money can be better spent elsewhere?

    The debate brings into play a host of things that don’t normally cross my radar – like non-rugby league politics.

    How should a government be run? To what extent should policies be populist versus service-oriented? Should taxpayer money be invested in schemes that earn more money, which is one of the arguments in favour of a $2 billion rebuild at ANZ and Allianz?

    The NRL gets $2 billion in TV rights. Should they not spend some of that on stadium upgrades rather than having the taxpayer foot the bill?

    It is possible to ponder these subjects without being a traitor to rugby league or whatever sport it is you follow. This isn’t a black and white issue, there are many nuances.

    But having said all that, will I be signing Peter FitzSimons’ petition? Probably not.

    An artist's impression of the Allianz Stadium rebuild

    (Image: Facebook/Allianz Stadium)

    I probably wouldn’t sign one against the Papua New Guinea government investing in rugby league either. One one hand, I have a pang of guilt over what could be perceived as wastage – but on the other, I still have a loyalty to the sport.

    It’s easier to just sit back and do nothing.

    The truth is that while I am, as my thoughts above illustrate, a bit of a bleeding heart lefty, I am still not terribly socially conscious. It’s a difficult contradiction to explain, I know.

    I’ll try. I feel sorry for people but don’t often act as part of a wider group to help them.

    On an individual level, I’d like to think I’d help someone who needed one of those hospitals we are neglecting to build a stadium – I’d scoop them up off the side of the road, call an ambulance for them, etcetera, etcetera.

    But at any level beyond one-on-one interaction, I am basically selfish. I don’t care if Amazon or Google don’t pay tax. Nothing to do with me, good on them.

    The world outside my five-metre radius is basically beyond my control. I’ve got enough to worry about inside that area.

    Perhaps not the sort of thing you expected to read here. But while I find the stadium rebuild troubling, I don’t find it troubling enough to oppose it.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast and propriety of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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