11/02/2009 - 22:00

Taking our eyes off the ball

11/02/2009 - 22:00


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Perth is being left behind when it comes to major sports facilities.

Taking our eyes off the ball

IT is widely accepted that Perth has sub-standard sporting stadiums. How did we get to this point, is it a problem, and if so, what can we do about it?

The first question is relatively easy to answer, the second is tougher, and the third is the really hard one.

Premier Colin Barnett's announcement last week that the development of a major new sporting stadium at Subiaco would be put on-hold confirmed what most people had expected.

As discussed in this week's cover feature on the business of sport, it also highlighted one of the biggest constraints facing Perth's major sporting clubs.

The West Coast Eagles' fan base outgrew Subiaco Oval many years ago and the Fremantle Dockers' growing fan base is also likely to outgrow the oval in coming years.

The fans go to Subiaco despite its cramped seating, crowded corridors and outdated amenities.

The Western Force is moving to a new venue because rugby fans don't like Subiaco's vast expanses, where they bake in the hot sun while trying to watch a match 50 or even 100 metres away.

Subiaco Oval isn't the only problem. Members Equity Stadium has been developed on the cheap and needs a major upgrade and expansion to meet the needs of the Western Force.

The WACA ground is an attractive cricket venue but is filled only a few times a year, while Challenge Stadium is used more frequently but struggles to accommodate the crowds.

Perth does not look good when compared to other Australian state capitals, which have managed to organise the development of larger, more attractive, more functional and comfortable stadiums.

The comparison looks even worse when we are put up against major European nations.

Who remembers the stunning football stadiums when South Korea and Japan, or more recently Germany, hosted the World Cup a few years ago?

There are a few positives for Perth. The 13,500-seat Perth Arena is currently under construction in the city. It should provide a quality venue for indoor sports like tennis and basketball, as well as providing a new concert venue to replace the abysmal Burswood Dome.

New athletics and basketball facilities are also under construction near Challenge Stadium, helped by the expected proceeds from the redevelopment of Perry Lakes stadium.

Arguably the main reason Perth has ended up with sub-standard stadiums is that each sporting code has focused on protecting its own patch.

The football commission and the cricket association could be joint tenants in a truly world-class stadium, but instead are stuck with the status quo, or worse.

The football commission has to contemplate add-on renovations at Subiaco. This prospect reminds me of 1970s home extensions, when Perth families tacked a living room onto the back of their house, turning the old kitchen into a major thoroughfare.

The cricket association will probably retain its independence but only by selling off a big chunk of real estate to commercial property developers.

Hardly an ideal outcome.

Judging by radio talkback and letters to the editor, Perth residents seem to agree with the premier's decision to shelve the proposed outdoor stadium. They believe that money should be spent on hospitals, housing, schools and so on.

But have people twigged that the stadium project is gone? Not deferred for a couple of years, as the premier said. It is unlikely to proceed for another decade, if not longer.

There comes a time when governments need to think big and embrace visionary projects, and build social infrastructure that instils community pride.

Let's look at two examples. Former premier Richard Court succumbed to criticism and downscaled the bell tower - it is now widely seen as a missed opportunity. Its modest presence is a constant reminder of what could have been.

In contrast, former planning minister Alannah MacTiernan defied her critics and pushed ahead with the Mandurah rail line, which is now acknowledged as a great asset.

The state government controls the purse strings and could force the major sporting clubs to the table, but that is a remote prospect in the current political and economic climate.

The sporting clubs will need to manage as best they can. As for the punters, they might think about watching their sport on television.


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