Sorry, Mr FitzSimons, I’m not signing your petition

Paul Nicholls Roar Guru

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    ‘We, the undersigned residents from the more affluent areas of Sydney, protest the government spending money on the riffraff who follow the rectangular footy codes.’

    Okay, the petition instigated by Peter FitzSimons to oppose government expenditure on two new football stadiums is worded more eloquently than that, but that’s how it shapes up to me.

    In fact the wording is very clever. It is difficult to mount a case for the stadiums when the argument against uses emotive issues like schools and hospitals.

    Let’s look at the infrastructure first. Are the two stadiums really in need of replacement?

    Allianz Stadium, once called the Sydney Football Stadium, was one of Australia’s very first all-seater rectangular stadiums, coming online in 1988.

    As a first attempt at a rectangular stadium it wasn’t too bad. The ground has a good atmosphere when full, but the bottom-tier seats have a very shallow rake, so viewing is not optimal.

    The sweeping saddle-like roof is lovely to look at but offers virtually no protection from the elements for most of the crowd. I once experienced a mighty hailstorm during a rugby league semi-final at Allianz that resulted in fans in the lower tier crowding the narrow aisles and subsequently blocking the view of the few people actually undercover.

    Luckily the ground was only half full – I could see it being very unsafe if it were packed.

    There are claims that Allianz is out of date in terms of safety standards. If this is true, then it is hard to see how renovations are going to help.

    Sadly tragedies like Hillsborough and the spectre of terrorism mean the paradigm for stadium safety has changed. If the stadium has to pulled down anyway, I would rather see it rebuilt.

    I would hate to see the site turned into a park for the well-to-do to walk their labradoodles over the ghosts of football matches past.

    (Image: Facebook/Allianz Stadium)

    ANZ Stadium at Homebush was never designed as a football stadium. It was purpose-built as an athletics stadium for the Sydney Olympics and by October 2000 was effectively redundant.

    Pressed into service for football, it is largely unloved. The spectators are just too far away from the action.

    Stadium design has advanced since the 1980s. I believe there is a much greater chance the new stadiums can be designed for a 50 to 75-year life span.

    In Sydney we have the following conundrum: the AFL has two excellent stadiums – the 50,000-capacity Sydney Cricket Ground near the city centre and the 20,000-capacity Spotless Stadium in the city’s west.

    The stadiums are the perfect size for AFL. I don’t begrudge them that. Sydney is a multi-code city after all.

    But what of the traditional codes of football in this city: rugby league, football and of course rugby union? Don’t these codes deserve some respect? Aren’t they part of the cultural fabric of the city and the state of New South Wales?

    Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne have catered for their traditional codes handsomely. Why should Sydney have second-rate stadiums for its main football codes?

    Mr FitzSimons once said that sporting stadiums were the modern-day equivalent of a cathedral, but 20 years later he has altered his view.

    What has changed?

    Sydney is still a global city, isn’t it? It is competing for sporting and cultural events not just with other cities in Australia but with cities throughout Asia-Pacific.

    Top Premier League and European football clubs regularly play preseason in Asia and draw huge crowds. Whether we like it or not, we need top-class facilities to grab some of this market.

    I can see the new stadiums only benefiting Mr Fitzimons’s favoured sport of rugby union as well. The new SFS will be a great showcase for the Waratahs, and the atmosphere at Bledisloe Cup matches at the new rectangular stadium at Homebush will be massive.

    What better way to attract new people to rugby union, football and rugby league. If an improved stadium experience brings in more crowds, then more kids might be inclined to take up their favourite sport, and with more kids playing sport, there will be fewer obese adults in our hospitals.

    So I’m not going to sign the petition. I for one am happy that I’ll able to see rugby union, rugby league and football in a modern, first-class venue worthy of a global city.

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