Thursday, 23 October 2008

Politicial grandstanding or something more meaningful?

Thanks to Peter for giving us the heads up

Stadium funding dispute riles athletics community

Cameron Houston

October 23, 2008

A FUNDING dispute over the new athletics stadium in Albert Park could see the contentious project substantially scaled back and delayed, infuriating Melbourne's track and field fraternity.

Plans for the 5000-seat State Athletics Centre at Bob Jane Stadium have reached an impasse after the Department of Premier and Cabinet refused to increase funding for the project from $50 million.

Several senior State Government sources warned the new home of Athletics Victoria and the Victorian Institute of Sport might need to be reduced substantially.

A Government source said: "They want a modern stadium to accommodate crowds of 10,000, state-of-the-art facilities for the VIS and Athletics Australia and the redevelopment of Olympic Park for Collingwood and Melbourne (football clubs). They also want new soccer pitches for South Melbourne Soccer Club to keep them happy, but it simply can't be done for $50 million — something has to give."

The crowd figure of 10,000 would include 5000 seats and standing room for 5000 people.

The source said an initial budget request of $60 million had been rejected by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

"Victorian athletics is probably going to be the loser in all this," another Government source said.

A spokesman for Major Projects Victoria said the size and scope of the new athletics centre were being finalised, and would receive the bulk of government funding before the Olympic Park redevelopment.

Preparatory work on the Albert Park site began earlier this month, the spokesman said.

Last night, athletics legend Ron Clarke slammed the State Government's decision to relocate track and field from its spiritual base at Olympic Park and not adequately finance the move.

"They should never have moved athletics from Olympic Park," Mr Clarke said.

"Tradition counts for a lot and we saw with the AFL's decision to move its base to Waverley that bureaucrats often get it wrong."

He said track and field events had been ignored and underfunded by state governments around the country

"Despite that, we still produce champions and it's about time governments recognised and rewarded those efforts," Mr Clarke said.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates recently backed calls for more government money for elite athletes if Australia was to "take back the Ashes" at the 2012 London Olympics after Great Britain finished ahead of Australia in the Beijing medal count.

Athletics Victoria and the VIS said they had not seen plans for the Albert Park site and declined to comment on project funding.

Athletics Victoria has been kicking up a stink with a quite well run public relations campaign, but its been largely ineffective in the 'real world' - after all, most Australians only give a stuff about athletics every four years, and that boat has has just left port, not to be seen again for awhile. Do they really think they'll be thrown a bone? Because the inevitability of them being moved is, well, inevitable. Of course negotiations are still taking place behind closed doors as well; so really I'm thinking this is just part of the game rather than anything serious. Chances are they might win some concessions, and probably become the dominant tenant anyway, and thus this is an attempt to wrangle some token gesture. After all, Olympic Park has history - not just for them mind you - but it's also a shit venue on its last legs. They know it, everyone knows it. So why not just calmly come along and accept the situation and get it over and done with?

Not that South is the master of PR domain, but their silence also says something about the situation. That we are quite happy with how things are going, or that nobody really cares what we think unless it's to comment on a riot. Perhaps both. The funny thing is, we're in the position of power, with 7 years left on our lease, starting to maximise our ground hire earnings potential, and the need to appease us to get Collingwood in to Olympic Park and Athletics Victoria out as soon as possible. Not that I think we'll learn anything concrete about our move at this year's AGM, but it should be interesting at least in the way they try to deflect questions and overcome the classic Greek big mouth tendencies. Otherwise, this is largely aa filler piece, brining up something which is probably progressing as per usual behind closed doors.

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