Sydney’s stadiums debate shows sport might not be the political winner it once was

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By The Conversation, The Conversation is a Roar Guru

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    Less than two decades after Sydney hosted the Olympics, its sports infrastructure is back in the national consciousness. The Conversation

    The New South Wales government has come in for heavy criticism over its plan to knock down and rebuild the Olympic Stadium (currently branded ANZ) in Sydney’s west and the Sydney Football Stadium (currently branded Allianz), which sits in the east alongside the Sydney Cricket Ground.

    The cost? Somewhere above A$2 billion.

    Suddenly, the media-sport-politics machine cranked up in earnest.

    A debate beyond the field

    Sydney Morning Herald columnist and sport aficionado Peter FitzSimons reported that his article criticising the decision elicited the strongest reaction to anything that he’d written in the paper over three decades. There followed a change.org petition and a welter of unfavourable publicity reaching well beyond Sydney.

    Even the NSW opposition leader, Luke Foley, broke out of the state political freezer to press his criticisms on national radio.

    This was, for Foley, a matter of west versus east, education and health versus big sport, and the state government pandering to its elite mates on the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust. Its trustees include the influential broadcaster Alan Jones and uber-conservative businessman Maurice Newman.

    SCG members stand

    Sport Minister Stuart Ayres had, by then, rolled out the familiar justifications that Sydney was falling behind the likes of Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in its big event infrastructure. This was not just a matter of civic pride, but of jobs in the event sector. And, in any case, Ayres claimed the cost was only 1% of planned five-year expenditure on health and education.

    The sport-friendly local tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, editorially supported him with the unequivocal opinion:

    Spending $2 billion on revamping our sports stadiums is a good thing.

    Judging by the amplified negative response, this riposte was finding the going hard.

    Is sport’s political power fading?

    What does all this claim and counter-claim over public investment in infrastructure tell us about sport, politics and economics?

    First, it appears that sport does not have quite the privileged place at the front of the public trough queue it once occupied.

    Whereas once there would have been a great deal of flowery language about sport’s unchallenged place in Australian hearts, the justification for the funding priority given to two large enclosed sport spaces has been almost entirely economic.

    In Australia, as elsewhere in the world (especially North America), cities have been drawn into a place-marketing competition in which private sport concerns demand public subsidies. If governments don’t stump up the cash through building facilities, offering tax incentives and other inducements, sport franchises and signature events threaten to relocate.

    In Sydney’s case, one threat is that it may lose major events like the NRL Grand Final if it does not do what is expected of it by those who run the game. That many locals seem prepared to run that risk suggests that sport cannot simply appeal to its intrinsic worth as a substitute for reasoned argument.

    But, if there is some well-founded scepticism about sport being unimpeachably good for the soul, it also seems that many people have become wary of the case that it is beneficial for the wallet.

    The seemingly hard-headed world of sport event economics has been frequently exposed as a fantasy island of rubbery figures, optimistic projections and misleading extrapolations.

    Further reading: For cities, hosting major sporting events is a double-edged sword

    Building sport infrastructure has become enmeshed with all the other contentious projects that are currently underway in Sydney. The best known of these is the $17 billion (and rising) WestConnex road network expansion.

    The Australian auditor-general has been highly critical of the cavalier way in which public funds were committed at the behest of governments and interest groups. Public transport advocates have bemoaned its lost opportunities.

    The information-light argument that has been made for the Sydney stadium rebuilds has, it appears, a similar level of substance to WestConnex. Substituting “sport and jobs” for the “roads and jobs” mantra has been met with much cynicism, especially when more imaginative, lower-key ways of spending $2 billion on sport and other socially beneficial areas are being canvassed.

    Building up suburban, community-based sport facilities, reducing junior sport registration costs, advancing school classroom renovation timetables and restoring the embattled technical and further education system have all been suggested as better ways of spending on the public good out of the proceeds of privatisation.

    Working out who should benefit from public funding inevitably raises questions of need and privilege. The NSW Coalition government’s efforts to keep both sides of town happy across the east-west divide has left it uncomfortably astride the M4 motorway that it is widening in the name of WestConnex.

    Sport stadium debates, like the contests they stage, can be unpredictable affairs. The fate of governments may stand or fall with the grandstands.

    David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    The Crowd Says (59)

    • December 9th 2017 @ 9:08am
      Norad said | December 9th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Build on the outside wall of each stadium a space for 500 automated recycling machines and then the sooks will praise the government for the stadium spending.

      • December 9th 2017 @ 9:49am
        Kangajets said | December 9th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        Constructive comment

        • December 9th 2017 @ 11:01am
          Justin Kearney said | December 9th 2017 @ 11:01am | ! Report

          Compared to any of yours Kanga yes it was.

          • December 9th 2017 @ 6:01pm
            Kangajets said | December 9th 2017 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

            Lol

          • December 9th 2017 @ 6:03pm
            Kangajets said | December 9th 2017 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

            As I said yesterday, unnecessary waste of money

            • December 9th 2017 @ 7:08pm
              Justin Kearney said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

              If you say so precious.

              • December 9th 2017 @ 7:19pm
                Kangajets said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

                Thanks sweetie

    • December 9th 2017 @ 10:21am
      paul said | December 9th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      The gist of the article is right. No longer can organisations like the SCG Trust demand and expect to get money, based on it’s power base, because it could potentially cost their political supporters their positions in Government.

      I haven’t been following this issue till vert recently and in that time, have seen no mention of any independent feasibility studies about complete re-construction versus rehabilitation. Does such a beastie exist and if not, why hasn’t it been done? It would take the guess work out of this decision and give some clear guidelines about potential costs and benefits.

      Or maybe NSW taxpayers don’t care about what happens to $2.1 billion of their money.

      • December 9th 2017 @ 7:33pm
        Beny Iniesta said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

        They rehabilitated the MCG in the early 2000s for the Commonwealth Games and one would have to conclude that has been a disaster of epic proportions.

        The place is run-down as all heck.

        No one goes there anymore.

        The MCG has been left behind by other newer stadia throughout Australia.

        Perhaps the MCG should follow the example of Stadium Australia – which is even now newer than half the MCG and be torn down and rebuild brand new?

        • December 9th 2017 @ 7:36pm
          Morsie said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

          Bloody Melbourne, always trying to go one better than Sydney. Just be happy being No.2.

    • December 9th 2017 @ 10:48am
      Big Daddy said | December 9th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

      The NRL and scg trusted have obviously conned the nsw government into the premise based on the afl model of the 2 major stadiums in Melbourne.
      The people of Sydney don’t deserve good stadiums because they don’t turn up.
      The NRL won’t lose the grand final based on stadium conditions.
      Parramatta needs to built but honestly wasnt there that much wrong with it or the other 2 that some major refurbishment may have fixed.
      As far as suburban grounds are concerned the one thing that would fix Brookvale is a bulldozer.
      All these boutique stadiums have some pluses but the main underlying factor transport to them.
      Very hard to get to Brookvale and leichhardt and the rest aren’t up to standard.

    • December 9th 2017 @ 10:53am
      HarryT said | December 9th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

      It is the same as the ancient Romans distracting the masses with lions and Christians.

      Help the homeless, feed the hungry and heal the sick before you do what Alan and Ray tell you to do.

      • December 9th 2017 @ 7:49pm
        Pauly said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

        The argument once used to criticise the acceptance of refugees is now being used to kibosh stadium upgrades.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 9th 2017 @ 11:26am
      Grobbelaar said | December 9th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      This could be the issue that brings the grandstand down.

    • December 9th 2017 @ 11:40am
      Cathar Treize said | December 9th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

      I see in this mornings SMH FitzSimons just mention the NRL in his stadium article. He really is pandering to the outraged yuppies like himself by disingenuously failing to mention union & soccer.

      • December 9th 2017 @ 12:04pm
        Mike said | December 9th 2017 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

        Fitzsimons is driven by hate. Hate of RL. Hate of Alan Jones. Hate of capitalists on SCG trust board.

        • December 9th 2017 @ 3:15pm
          Cathar Treize said | December 9th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

          He is the last person who should hate capitalists given his wife earns a great capitalist’s living. He is just a walking piece of hypocrisy.

          • Roar Rookie

            December 9th 2017 @ 3:39pm
            Grobbelaar said | December 9th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

            But in polite company, she says: oh he’s a communist, a biiiig communist….

            • December 9th 2017 @ 6:27pm
              valhalla said | December 9th 2017 @ 6:27pm | ! Report

              lol

              • December 10th 2017 @ 7:37pm
                GWSINGAPORE said | December 10th 2017 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

                He still has 140 000 signatures on the petition. A record for that online survey organization.

              • December 10th 2017 @ 8:05pm
                Crosscoder said | December 10th 2017 @ 8:05pm | ! Report

                Which will make no difference to the decision already made.People soon get on with life with other things to worry about.
                Its’ the silent majority who decide in the end at election time.
                And no doubt many of the signatures came from people with no interest in sport, some no doubt AFL types as retaining ANZ as is means they can use it for semis.Shepherd is a crafty one

              • Roar Guru

                December 11th 2017 @ 3:51pm
                Redb said | December 11th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                Whoa watch that tin foil hat Crosscoder…

              • December 11th 2017 @ 5:00pm
                Crosscoder said | December 11th 2017 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

                Who benefits from ANZ remaining unchanged Red B ?Who benefits from a run down SFS,whilst having updated stadiums of their own?
                Comments made by Shepherd in the past about retaining ANZ as oval, and your code putting in a couple of mill to ensure it remained able to handle the oval code,suggests the tin foil hat is doing OK.
                Added to the fact the SFS ironically will be built before the ANZ,and should a new Govt come in,ANZ may well end up having zero done.

                The irony is noted by the numbers of fans of your code here, who do not want any demolition work done on either.Really concerned about taxpayers money LO,only when it involvers other codes apparently..

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