Disappointment. Disbelief. Despair. Wagga rugby league and athletics officials are still reeling from the news that the NSW government will spend more than $2 billion demolishing and rebuilding just two football stadiums in Sydney.
For a community which had to band together and bank on the generosity of volunteers to build a home for rugby league in Wagga, it leaves a bitter taste.
“It’s $2 billion, it’s ridiculous,” Wagga Rugby League president Warren Barclay said.
“Is that an equal distribution of assets throughout the community? Why shouldn’t we have 200 $10 million grants?
“Even if the government could provide us with some funding like one million dollars, what we’d be able to do with that would be amazing.”
Barclay said his personal opinion was that $2 billion was needed in health and education before sport. But if it’s been allocated to sport, then there are better ways to make use of it.
Wagga Junior Rugby League president, Bob Hay was equally stunned.
“I was very disappointed to read about that, wasting billions of dollars on a couple of stadiums that are 20, 30 years old,” Hay said.
“How much infrastructure could that build over country NSW, where people are struggling for just the basics.”
Hay has also been involved in the drive by the Wagga athletics community to try to source funding for an all-weather track at Jubilee Park.
They’ve found support from council but the process of applying for state government grants isn't easy.
“They seem to be able to find money for things in the big smoke but nothing comes out to the country,” Hay said. “We’ll have to sit around, volunteers, and put together something over god-knows-how-many hours. It seems in metropolitan areas, they walk up and it’s handed to them on a platter.”
Hay said Jubilee is one of the best grass tracks around but without an all-weather track, the clubs are limited in their ability to attract events and carnivals and wash-outs of school carnivals and local events are inevitable.
Riverina branch athletics president, Brent Hathaway, is almost fed up after a decade after trying to work through it. In less than double that time, ANZ Stadium has apparently reached its use-by date and will be replaced, along with Allianz Stadium.
“I think it is a bit of a kick in the guts for every sporting club and every school kid in these areas, especially from an athletics point of view,” Hathaway said.
“Every school kid in Wagga uses it and if it gets wet, they can’t use it.
“Any sort of funding we could get out this way would help. $2 billion would definitely fix a lot of sporting infrastructure west of the Blue Mountains.”
The rugby league facility at Equex Centre came at a cost of around $2.4 million dollars, much of which was donated time and labour, as well as a Wagga City Council grant.
Barclay points out the venue has since hosted soccer, rugby union and elite rugby league including pre-season games, Country-City and a World Cup warm-up game.
He said a million dollar grant could be split between adding improvements at Equex and kickstarting the plan to redevelop and regenerate Harris Park, including a community hall or clubrooms.
“We could sink it into a multitude of venues which would be used by a multitude of teams, and the clubrooms would be open to the community for other use,” he said.
Group Nine Juniors president, Michael Kirkman, said it’s hard not to imagine what even a small state grant could do, from building female changerooms for juniors and seniors to making Equex suitable for NRL matches.
“We don’t have adequate lights for a night game,” Kirkman said. “Wagga Rugby League couldn’t pay for that and I don’t think Council could.”
Kirkman said the announcement of a massive amount of money for two existing venues was at odds with what it takes to get improvements at grassroots level.
“(Wagga Rugby League) had to do a lot of work just by themselves,” he said.
“The Wagga committees have basically built McDonalds Park and Parramore Park (the Equex senior and junior facilities) by themselves.
“That’s not even a Group. They’re run by the local clubs. So that amount of work that’s gone into those grounds and those areas, with the Council, is enormous.
“My biggest concern is we’re still increasing our participant numbers… so our competitions are pretty healthy but our biggest problem now is space.
“And facilities. I know in the junior area at Parramore Park, we need to duplicate the dressing rooms. We don’t have female-only dressing sheds.
“And look around the region, everyone can put their hand up.”
But Group Nine president Jack Morton said there was merit in the Sydney decision given Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne are all building and improving facilities.
“You need world class venues,” Morton said. “I’d hate to see the grand final leave Sydney because the ground’s not good enough.
“I don’t know if that (threat) is just a bluff or whatever.
“But I think the suburban grounds have had their days. I think most football people if you want to go to a game, you like the facilities to be good.”