Prior to COVID, it was exciting that ANZ and Allianz stadiums were to receive some much-needed upgrading, with the NSW government pledging $1.8 billion in funding for both.
Personally, I found Allianz to be a perfectly sized rectangular stadium that brought spectators close to the action. I didn’t find the knockdown-rebuild necessary but could see the need for improving facilities, such as amenities, food outlets and better parking options.
Alas, a brand-new stadium will be built on the Moore Park site in conjunction with newly constructed light rail and tram lines which head directly outside it, so it is expected to be a winner with the sport-loving public and much more accessible than the previous model.
Construction is currently underway and is expected to be finalised by the end of 2021.
On the other hand, ANZ was never designed for rectangular sports viewing. Seating stands are not elevated and are easily 20-30 metres away from the action, which creates a deft atmosphere unless it is filled, which only happens a handful of times a year.
A knockdown-rebuild, turning it into a purpose-built venue made a lot more sense and it would have become the primary stadium for some Sydney NRL clubs, along with premium games involving international, state and club sides from all three rectangular football codes.
Despite the numerous promises, memorandums of understanding and handshake agreements, the wind was finally taken out of the sails for NSW stadium funding when the coronavirus hit and we learnt the impact it would have. This resulted in the remaining $800 million in funding for the Homebush precinct being pulled, with Allianz considering themselves lucky construction was already underway.
Now the NSW Government have $800 million left in funding available and at this point have not reallocated it, nor are they in a rush to – so how should it be spent?
Peter FitzSimons recently wrote a piece about how the Deputy Premier of NSW is wasting taxpayer funds on ‘mini Bankwest stadiums’.
FitzSimons disagreed with funding set for ANZ being diverted to a proposal, headed by the NRL, to upgrade four or five suburban stadia and transform them into boutique venues – he would rather see the money spent upgrading schools.
Therein lies some merit, despite the fact the NSW public school system already has been allocated $10.6 billion in state funding which hasn’t been fully spent. I am a taxpayer and am satisfied that government funding is spread accordingly, with sport rightfully receiving considerably less than the schooling and health sectors.
I understand public funds goes towards stadia upgrades, and not everybody is a sports fan, but there is enough to go around. Attacks of the NRL and the state government finding ways to spend stadia-allocated funding is pessimistic.
As an optimist, I am for the collective growth of rectangular sports in NSW I have a pragmatic solution to the stadium funding dilemma.
The NRL has requested funding for up to five boutique venues, with capacity ranging from 20-25,000 undercover arena seating and upgrades to eateries, other facilities and parking.
The following stadia should receive funding for upgrading on the proviso that rugby league, rugby union and soccer have access to them:
• New Liverpool stadium
• Penrith stadium
• Brookvale Oval
• Belmore Oval
• Kogarah Oval
These upgrades will ensure each professional NSW club in NRL, rugby and the A-League has a new home ground which will provide greater accessibility, viewing, tribalism and improved overall experience. This will also ensure premium games and events are hosted at these venues.
Furthermore, they can be utilised by the semi-professional NSWRL Canterbury Cup, NSW National Premier League 1 for soccer and the Shute Shield competition for rugby union. Other stadiums in NSW can also still be utilised if need be, such as Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Leichhardt Oval, or WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
But there is still a problem.
At the moment, COVID is limiting crowd numbers in NSW to 25 per cent of the stadium capacity, or a limit of 10,000. Many will be up in arms to learn their taxes are being spent on stadiums with attendances so severely hampered, so in our current climate it would be inconsiderate to push forward.
From a sporting perspective, the pandemic has hindered growth and will no doubt set many of the codes back, with stadium funding also being affected.
My solution is for the remaining $800 million to be diverted to other resources and budgets on a temporary basis, and hopefully when we contain this disease for good, NSW stadia can re-emerge as a priority after making the sacrifices when it mattered.
This would solidify the future for the state’s rectangular football codes.