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Opinion

Political grandstanding abounds as stadium stoush gets ugly - but it's correct call to cancel suburban upgrades

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Expert
3rd August, 2022
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Never has the term “political grandstanding” been more appropriate.

The Sydney stadium stoush is bringing out all sorts of posturing from the feuding parties in the NRL and the NSW government.

It’s getting ugly and only going to get worse with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys accusing NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet of reneging on a handshake deal to invest $800 million to upgrade stadiums at Sydney NRL clubs.

In theory, politicians are there to serve the people. In reality, they function to remain in power. There’s an election due next March.

Political parties are swayed by polling on the run and it’d be a tough sell to tell the electorate that vast amounts of the public purse should be spent on making it a bit more comfy at the footy at a few grounds instead of putting those resources towards education, health services and disaster relief services … aka, things that actually matter.

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Damien Cook takes a run in the NRL grand final

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The government is clearly intent on going down that path in a bid to stay in office rather than appealing to footy fans who think suburban grounds like Brookvale, Shark Park and Leichhardt need a makeover.

There’s only so much lipstick you can put on a pig. And when it comes to comparing these grounds to the likes of CommBank Stadium or the shiny new ones in Townsville, Perth and the revamped Adelaide Oval, the suburban venues look terribly hog-like.

And this is after north of $800m was spent to rebuild the Sydney Football Stadium and another lazy $300m is being used to replace Penrith’s home ground. 

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V’landys claimed earlier on Wednesday that, on two occasions this year, the Premier had promised him the suburban stadium splurge would happen.

And the payoff would be that the GF would stay in Sydney for two more decades, as per an agreement which was sealed four years ago.

V’landys is using the venue for this year’s Grand Final as the bargaining tool/ransom demand and has forewarned that the NRL will be considering taking the matter to court if the government doesn’t backflip on the u-turn after its 180.

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Has a promise not been kept before by a government? Seems like something they’d do.

There is less than two months remaining before the Grand Final is due to be played. The NRL often needs to pull out all its marketing resources to sell out Accor Stadium in a good year, this time around is going to be even tougher when no one can say which patch of turf will be hosting the game.

“We looked the Premier in the eye, we shook his hand, we did a deal and he’s just blatantly reneged. That’s the summary,” V’landys told 2GB.

“When you do a deal and you shake someone’s hand, you honour that agreement, but then to take the cake, they used the human tragedy of the floods to spin their way out on why they’re reneging on it. It takes it to another level. 

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“He said he can’t honour the deal. This is about the fourth or fifth excuse that has been given to us.

“How is any organisation or business going to do it make an agreement with a NSW government when it’s got a precedent of reneging?”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 10: Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter Vlandys speaks to the media during a NRL media opportunity at Rugby League Central on August 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Vlandys. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Perrottet was unmoved by the bluster coming from Rugby League Central.

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“The NSW government remains committed to upgrading suburban stadiums however following recent natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is appropriate that further investment in stadia is staged,” he said.

“The government has just received the Floods Inquiry Report, which will likely require a significant cost to the taxpayer and I note right now there are still 1366 people without a home in NSW due to flooding.”

In an announcement which puts the ARL even further behind on the scoreboard in its clash with the government, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns has supported Perrotet’s decision to prioritise disaster relief spending over footy grounds.

He’s sniffed the wind and also realised taking the opposing view would be ballot box poison.

The original deal between the ARL and NSW government from 2018 was done to get an $800 million upgrade for Accor Stadium to turn it into a permanent rectangular stadium.

That was scrapped during the pandemic with the NRL wanting the money diverted to Penrith and other suburban grounds in need of a makeover.

Every other Australian capital city gets by with two or three main stadiums for the football codes, Sydney will have three with a capacity of 42,000 or more in the Olympic stadium, the SCG and the new SFS when it opens on September 2 with the Roosters squaring off with South Sydney.

There is also a state-of-the art 30,000 seater at Parramatta and another one on the way at Penrith.

It’s frustrating if you’re a Sharks, Dragons or Sea Eagles fan who does not live in these areas in the geographical east, centre and west of Sydney.

Sea Eagles fans have almost been lauded for their refusal to travel to away games, particularly finals matches at the SFS. You may have heard that it’s an “insular peninsular” but that’s another topic.

It’s a grand total of 19.2km from Brookvale Oval to the SFS. 

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Valentine Holmes of the Cowboys celebrates after kicking the winning penalty goal during the round 19 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Wests Tigers at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on July 24, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Valentine Holmes celebrates after kicking the winning penalty goal against the Tigers. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Ask Cowboys fans how far they travel to watch their team play. They come from literally far and wide in North Queensland for their only chance to see the NRL a dozen times a year, many of them spending hours (as in plural, more than one) driving to a game and you guessed it, the same time on the way back.

Try telling them about how much of a hassle it is to get from one of the four corners of the Sydney compass to another. They will not offer much in the way of sympathy.

As we’ve seen in the recent battle between the ARL Commission and the NSWRL over its boardroom elections, V’landys and co won’t back down and there’s a fair chance this will end up in the courts.

And just like the Super League war’s protracted legal battle in the 1990s, the lawyers will come out smiling after racking up exorbitant legal fees but rugby league will not be the winner.

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