Despite the Liberal Party claiming a ‘gamechanger’ for sport in Sydney over the refurbishment of Allianz Stadium in Moore Park, local sporting grounds and associations are the losers of this deal, with outdated facilities putting future talent in limbo.
As parents fork out hundreds, sometimes thousands for their children to play competitive sport, questions are being asked on whether local councils and government officials are doing enough to help the next generation of sport.
Uneven pitches, waterlogged fields, lack of storage facilities, lack of change rooms for women and disabled people, as well as overcrowded pitches are just the many problems both players and spectators face within local sporting communities, particularly in the Hills and Blacktown districts.
Both, player and referee within the Hills district, Paul Carollo is tired having to deal with pitches and grounds that are not up to standard.
“When I played at McCoy Park last season, I hadn’t been there for about six years and I forgot how bad it was,” said Carollo.
“The ground was uneven and one side of the pitch was higher than the other, meaning we were basically running uphill for one half of football,
“Stadiums do need to be upgraded but I do think we do need more funding from the government for local community groups
“For instance, if we had a few million, we could have a state of the art football facility in the Hills area where there would be no wash out games and everyone would be playing”.
The Hills Football Association has been growing, with twenty-one established clubs within the district, and whilst there is positive growth of players, it is also the association’s biggest weakness.
The association is expected to field roughly 12,500 players, up from 2500 in 2018. The contributing factors include the rapid growth of surrounding areas. Kellyville as an example; has seen it’s population soar from 20,341 residents in 2011 to 27,971 residents in 2016 (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics).
The rapid population growth has worried the Head of Hills Football, Kurt Johnson.
“In a recent Football NSW audit of the state, Hills was ranked second worst for the entire country in terms of player to pitch ratio,” Johnson said.
“So we currently have 277 players to one pitch, the national average is 155 players to one pitch, which is nearly double”.
The player to pitch ratio in the Hills District is 78% over the national average, is just one of the many issues that the association faces. Numerous clubs in Castle Hill, Bella Vista and Kellyville are in need for urgent funding.
“The facilities we currently have are dilapidated, they’re old and unsafe,” said Johnson.
“Some facilities don’t have include female of disabled change rooms, they don’t cater for storage of three to four goals, they don’t cater for the storage of balls and equipment,
“In short, the fields are not up to standard at all, and there’s no serious funding from the government”.
With a lack adequate sport facilities, both players and referees are affected. Former referee and now player, Lachlan Schuster was frustrated that most fields, at the start of the season, still have a cricket pitch in the middle.
“Sometimes I do get ankle pains after playing from the dirt and also sometimes if the cricket pitch isn’t covered sometimes, I have a few slips on that,” said Schuster.
Schuster was also frustrated that while paying to play, not only is the pitch not up to standard, but some games were cancelled due to slight wet weather.
“It is very frustrating when you pay hundreds, sometimes thousands for fees to play on a pitch that gets washed out,” said Schuster.
“It’s definitely not worth it sometimes.”
The Hills Football Association isn’t the only district in Sydney in need of facility upgrades.
The Blacktown and Districts Soccer Football Association, which with twenty-three established clubs, also are in need of sporting field development. It has BDSFA CEO, Bill Kostandas, worried and puzzled.
Just as round one of the Blacktown Premier League kicked off, the audit from Football NSW was released, showing alarming results for the Blacktown district.
“The recent Football NSW audit found that around 60% of our grounds are in need of improvements,” said Kostandas.
“Especially now with the growth of women in both playing and referees, we need change room facilities for that.
“Not all our fields have lights, so people can’t train and then we can’t have night games.
“Funding is critical, football needs to ramp up politicians to show the participation numbers, we have to push hard,” said Kostandas.
While Kostandas is a supporter of the refurbishment of Allianz Stadium in Moore Park, he hopes that some funds go towards local sporting communities.
“I personally think we need Allianz Stadium because Sydney is a huge area, but, whatever the money they are putting into that, they should put an equivalent to grassroots sporting facilities as well.” said Konstandas.
Local sporting associations such as Hills Football have applied for numerous grants and schemes to the government.
While applications for new fields, change rooms, bathrooms and equipment facilities have been recognised by councils and government, the process currently takes too long.
“There’s countless different grants available, local, state, federal and even private grants,” said Johnson.
“To write a good grant and to apply for a grant takes four to five days of full-time work and before you can do any work,
“The process is extremely long for each one and very hard to obtain without submitting a proposal worthy of a university assignment”.
Sydney faces a crucial time of adequate sport funding, with local sporting communities not keeping up with the demand of population growth.
As Allianz Stadium is in the process of refurbishment at a cost of around $800m, local players, coaches, spectators are hit the hardest with uneven pitches and in some cases, kids are being slammed with excessive fees to play the sports they love.
As a result, this can affect Australia’s overall sporting competitiveness in major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics.