Circuses Before Bread

Playing and watching sport is prominent among Australian preoccupations, including mine. In Winter 2010 issue of The Independent Australian, the subsidizing of professional sport (circuses) before public services (bread ) was taken up (see Features). Meanwhile, the games most of the children play today are on computers.


The latest taxpayer gift is a new multi-million dollar headquarters built next to the Sydney Football Stadium to house the NRL, expected to become an independent commission in the coming months, as well as the Australian, NSW and Country Rugby Leagues. It will also be the base for the game's education and learning programs and include an exhibition of rugby league history. (SMH 2 October 2010)

"Rugby League Central unites the various leagues in one building and brings the community into the heart of the game's administration," (!?) NRL chief executive David Gallop said.

How can the federal government commit $10.4 million and the NSW government $1 million to the $17.4 million Rugby League Central building, a facility used purely for administration?

Then there is an upgrade of the MCG Southern Stand. The cost will be $55 million, $30 million from the Victorian Government, $25 million from the members.. It so happens that I went to the Collingwood - Geelong semi-final and it was sold out. The existing facilities could only be described at best as adequate, but hell, this is the football, not the opera. The enormously wealthy AFL will be the main beneficiary, at no cost to themselves. Brendan O’Reilly wrote a piece in The Age (22 September 2010) on this overdoing of spending on the MCG, instead for example, providing homes for the disabled. (He was more trenchant than I.)

But this a bagatelle, and at least there is something concrete to show for it, compared to the Victorian Government subsidizing the Grand Prix with $57 million for the  2010 event. The Grand Prix is a traveling circus; it rolls in, performs and rolls out immediately with no trace. Revenue has been falling since 2005. Both major parties support continuation. The Age pointedly put in a last paragraph 

‘details of the price tag came the same day as one of Australia’s largest out-patient centres for eating disorders, in Surrey Hills, was closing down for lack of funds after a decade of operation.’

The state of the art Melbourne AAMI rectangular stadium cost even more at $267 million, hopefully a one-off. The ameliorating factor is that the ground is used by two football (soccer) teams, plus both league and union rugby, and as the three codes only partly overlap, it ensures that the ground will be in use for most of the year.

The Football Federation Australia still pursues a wild dream, at taxpayers expense, of hosting the World Cup while the local competition is going backwards. I happened to watch the Gold Coast - Newcastle game until at half time I could bear no more, the standard was so poor. Because of poor attendances half the ground was closed to save money. It was the opposite side to the cameras so that the game was played against a backdrop of of empty seats. Dispiriting, even on TV. Perhaps i wouldn’t been so cognizant of the poor standard, except that I saw Newcastle beat Chelsea 4 - 3. Now that was football! Therein lies the vicious circle for Australian football. The local games cannot secure a healthy TV fee because the standard is poor compared to the alternative overseas games, so the FFA cannot pay the best players enough to stop them going overseas. 

And even supporters of the clubs have given up. The attendance at the Gold Coast - Newcastle game was 2,000 and both clubs depend on wealthy backers to survive. Adelaide and North Queensland are owned by the FFA for want of an offer. The just completed round attracted an average attendance of 5,300, the lowest in the history of the A League competition.

But that won’t deter the promoters of the World Cup for Australia, such are their egos. Perhaps FFA President Frank Lowy, Australia’s richest man, could spend some of his own billions, instead of our money.

In SA the proposed  redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval is going to cost ? More than half a billion at least.

So congratulations to the WA State Government for refusing to be part of the AFL’s grandiose plans for a new Subiaco Oval. However, Premier Barnett has an open mind about a new stadium so Perth can host some soccer World Cup games in 2018 or 2022, which would likely cost well in excess of $450 million. With any luck, that won’t be necessary.

In Queensland they are serious about spending a billion dollars on on facilities to host the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. As good a way as any to fritter away the proceeds from privatizing Queensland Rail.

I'm not against some subsidy for sport, but it should be mainly devoted to getting children off their chairs, getting them away from computer games, building up wider relationships and improving their physical health.

Peter Wilkinson