Ben Buckley. Photo: GETTY IMAGESFootball Federation Australia boss Ben Buckley says the game has learnt another ”hard lesson” from the fiasco which has left former national champions Wollongong Wolves homeless for more than a decade, and has appealed to Wollongong City Council to redress ”this unfair situation”.
The plight of the Wolves, detailed in a series of Sydney Morning Herald articles on Saturday, follows a similar battle being fought by another fallen NSL giant, Sydney Olympic, in their quest to retain a home at Belmore.
Buckley was swift to warn authorities involved in the dispute – between Sydney Olympic and NRL competition pacesetters Canterbury Bulldogs – that the FFA would not be sitting on the sidelines if it felt football was being marginalised, and has now issued a similar warning about the Wolves.
”Providing infrastructure for all the tiers of football remains a top priority for the game,” Buckley said.
”The provision of pitches, floodlights and clubrooms just hasn’t kept up with the rapid growth in participation over the past decade. It’s time for governments at all levels to recognise the sheer numbers of people playing the game, from under-six to over-45, men and women, indoor and outdoor. It’s time to catch up.”
As part of the failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, the FFA conducted a ”National Facilities Audit” in 2010, and the document made sobering reading for the biggest participation code in the country. In total, 418 local government areas incorporating 1003 clubs across the country were audited, and it was in NSW where the game was particularly hard-up.
The report found a staggering ratio of 140 players per pitch. But perhaps the most confronting statistic – there were just four venues in NSW that met the criteria for the highest benchmarks, called bands three and four.
”Our own independent National Facilities Audit proved how significant the shortfall is in terms of what we need to meet community demand for football,” Buckley said.
The Wolves are arguably the starkest example of how badly football has fared. Having been convinced by local authorities, the state government, Wollongong University and St George-Illawarra Dragons to leave their previous home of Brandon Park in 2002 – despite having another six years on their lease – the Wolves are still without a new venue.
Last week the council made its first serious move to find a new home for the region’s flagship club, pledging in principle to upgrade J.J. Kelly Park at Coniston in time for the 2014 NSW Premier League season.
”It’s very unfair that having started with a workable plan and seed funding, the Wollongong Wolves have ended up homeless,” Buckley said. ”I trust that the latest round of talks with Wollongong Council can start to redress this unfair situation for a club that has made a significant contribution to the region.
”This is a hard lesson for football. The game doesn’t have enough facilities across Australia and we can’t afford to lose grounds in the way Brandon Park was lost.
”We will closely monitor the situation and work with Football NSW and Football South Coast to help achieve the right outcome.
”We need all levels of football in the Illawarra to work together, and I’m happy to say the level of co-operation is the best it’s ever been.
”Football now has unity of purpose, so the job is to make sure the game gets what it deserves in the allocation of facilities.”
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