16 June 2022

Cold comfort: it’s time a new stadium - and long-suffering fans - became a priority

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra Stadium

Canberra Stadium in winter: when it’s not cold or wet it’s cold and wet. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra Stadium is hard to love, especially in winter, with the structure feeling like a wind tunnel, and more often than not, a wet wind tunnel.

Combine the brutally cold wind with rain and the unforgiving concrete cold of the inner bowls, and it’s no wonder fans prefer to stay at home and watch the Raiders and Brumbies on television.

At least the prospect of a new enclosed stadium provides some hope for Canberra sports fans.

Well, it used to.

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The timeframe is constantly being extended and that was before reports over the weekend that a new indoor stadium is not a priority, at least in the short term, and the Civic Olympic Pool site is no longer an option. The reason cited was demand from sports organisations for a 30,000 seat stadium to attract major international sports events.

The problem?

The Civic Olympic Pool site is apparently only big enough for a 20,000-seat stadium.

So much for national sports codes extolling the virtues of taking major sports events to areas outside Sydney and Melbourne to build their brand! They also want a 30,000 seat stadium. And government funding.

Canberra Raiders

Raiders at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

I must admit, though, I have been in the dark over this restriction in size being an impediment to building a stadium on the Civic Pool site. I thought the development depended on Canberra securing an A-League licence, a deal with the Commonwealth associated with Canberra Stadium, and the state of the ACT budget.

Given this emphasis on crowd capacity, I have gone through the records of crowds at Canberra Stadium for international sporting events to see whether this is an issue.

Occasionally the crowd at Canberra Stadium tops 20,000, but not often.

There were 25,628 at the Anzac Rugby League test in 2013, and more than 20,000 watched the Socceroos Asian Cup qualifier in 2009, the Wallabies test against Italy in 2009, the Rugby World Cup game involving Wales and Italy in 2003 and the Olympic soccer matches in 2000.

In terms of the Brumbies and Raiders crowds, they would be happy with 20,000 for their home games.

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The question then needs to be asked: for whom would the stadium be built?

Is it for the fans of Canberra sports teams, the fans who brave the elements on a weekly basis during winter, or is the stadium to be built to secure the occasional international sports event?

One of the proposals, which floored me, was replacing the Mal Meninga Grandstand at Canberra Stadium because it wasn’t such a hit on ACT coffers. But this misses the point: the original concept behind building a new indoor stadium in Civic was its proximity to services such as transport.

Replacing the Meninga Stand will do little to add to the comfort of fans in the outer seats, nor will it be the modern facility the capital lacks. And as Ricky Stuart observed, Canberra is the only capital city without a modern stadium. He appears to have an important ally in this endeavour in soon-to-be-senator David Pocock.

So here’s a question to consider: are we building the new stadium in the hope of attracting international sport, or do we need to cater primarily for the fans of the Raiders, the Brumbies and potentially an A-League soccer team?

That seems like a no brainer.

Original Article published by Tim Gavel on Riotact.

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