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Exactly why are we spending $2 billion on new stadiums in Sydney?

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I was wrong.

Twenty-odd years ago in this space, I wrote: "Sports stadiums?are the cathedrals of our time." My basic idea was that whereas cities around the world would measure their glory by the grandeur of their cathedrals, the real steeple people now are those who build sporting cathedrals.

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Sam Kerr is the best, Andrew Hoole slots a ripper, Kangas in ominous WC form, Starc scones Root and the twittersphere explodes at Moeen Ali dismissal.

But who knocks down a cathedral after just 20 years? Have we really just taken a decision, in 2017, to knock down a $700 million stadium that was built for the Olympics in the year 2000? And knock down the Sydney Football Stadium into the bargain, when it is only 30 years old?

All so the NSW government can spend more than $2 billion on two new stadiums?

It seems so, with the government announcing exactly that last week, saying both stadiums will be razed to the ground with bigger, better ones built in their place.



I am still not sure.

The first thing to note is that it cannot be because they are too small to meet demand. How many times, since the torch that Cathy Freeman lit went out, has the Olympic Stadium, for starters, been sold out? Could you count it on the fingers of one finger, or need the whole of your left hand? Maybe, tops, both hands, but the point remains most sports events held at the Olympic Stadium are an eighth full at best, with the crowd scattered around, to use John Arlott's felicitous phrase, "like confetti in a graveyard".

The fact is, Sydney is not like Melbourne and we don't attend sporting events in nearly the numbers they do. We never have. We have other things to do, people to see, places to go, waves to surf, beaches to lie on!

Perhaps then, we need a roof – as is proposed for the new version of the stadium in Homebush?

Again, I ask, how many times in recent years and decades has the need for a roof come up?

Personally, I am going to go with ... never?

Of course, Melbourne has an enclosed stadium. I think it's called the Colonial/McDonalds/Emirates/Telstra Stadium, or something, and good luck to them. But they are in Bleak City, we are in sunny Sydney, and there has been no particular agitation to get our footballers out of the rain.

Surely then, it must be to enhance our viewing pleasure, with some modern configuration, that will bring us closer to the action.

Make no mistake, I have been a critic of the Olympic Stadium and noted at its opening, that watching a Bledisloe from high in the Gods is like watching a game through binoculars backwards. But, very broadly, that experience goes incontrovertibly with a very large stadium. And there has never been any such problem at the Sydney Football Stadium where the viewing is intimate.

On that subject, what exactly are the problems with the SFS? Beyond the queues for the food that seem to snake at right angles across the path of people trying to get to their section of seats, it has always been fairly affectionately regarded, yes?

Sports Minister Stuart Ayres also says there are not enough toilets for women and those with disabilities. Let us take him at his word, but knocking down the whole stadium in order to get new ones seems rather knocking down a house because you don't like the front door? Get a different front door! Build new toilets, on to the existing structure!

In sum, we are left with two pretty good stadiums right now – that are rarely filled – which are going to be knocked down at a cost of $2 billion, to be replaced by two new stadiums, all while there is little public demand to do either.

And this, while other areas of the government's bailiwick – think the obvious, of schools and hospitals – are crying out for more resources. But even when it comes to the government's responsibility for sport, it is not the big end, the corporate end, which already generates billions of dollars, that needs their support. It is the other end, the grass-roots end.

So why this sudden decision, to put overwhelming largesse at the service of Big Sport, when such money would work real wonders at the other end, with the building of ovals and dressing rooms across the land, the launching of sports programs, the hiring of sports development officers, and training of volunteer coaches could accomplish extraordinary things.

Whatever else, I think the government must explain its case better – and if they can't give compelling reasons, should think again.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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