The WACA Hits Its ‘Used By’ Date

Amidst cricket’s upheavals and the current stunning form reversal, the WACA Test was able to show us that some things never change. For one, it was another eventful and entertaining test on the WACA Ground’s lively wicket; for another, the venue’s considerable inadequacies were again laid bare, as generally seems to happen whenever it gets to hold a major event.

Having grown up in WA, I still reserve a certain fondness and sentimentality for the WACA Ground, but it’s starting to give way to exasperation. It’s certainly not a sense of nostalgia for the days before ‘progress’ – it’s probably the only place in the world I can think of where facilities and services at the ground have grown considerably worse over the last three decades.

I was in Perth on Day 1 of the Test, and made my first visit to the WACA for 7 years. Well aware of the plan to sell parcels of land in each corner to build residential towers (in order to then fund the ground’s redevelopment), I rolled up honestly expecting to see a series of cranes and half-built towers scattered around the ground’s periphery. Alas, no. Not a thing. Not even a temporary construction office, a fence, a council notice of development plans, a clearing out of old ramschackle structures that sit in the way.

In fact, it looked like nothing much had been done there at all since the 1990’s. Even relics from the days when AFL games were played there (the last game was in 2000) have had white paint plastered across them, but not actually been pulled down: there’s the old analogue time-clock on a light tower behind where the goalposts were at the Trinity end, and the large rotational sponsorship signs that now have structures in front of them. Has the ground’s budget for upkeep really been that paltry?

Perth people were disappointed that Cricket Australia left them off the schedule for the 4-test series in 2014-15, but then the ICC decided to pay a visit last week and compound their woes, by declaring the ground not up to international standard. Whilst I think the ICC might want to redefine their standards (from personal experience, I can attest that the WACA is up to the equally-poor standard of the venues at Chennai, Bangalore, Durban, Kingston, Headingly & Edgbaston… and I would confidently guess Dhaka, Kanpur, Colombo, Harare, etc), you get their point, and the WACA has fallen even further behind the other Australian grounds.

That Perth finds itself in this predicament is a result of greedy and short-sighted sporting administrators. Oblivious to economics and the reality of the city’s size, every sport has consistently insisted on having its “own” venue (and to be fair, politicians of both sides have lacked the guts to tell them to pull their heads in). So instead of building 1 world-class venue for the city, each sport has been able to eschew collaboration and have their own little third-rate hovel – and the unfortunate Perth sporting public has been left with both the country’s worst cricket ground, and the worst stadium in the AFL.

I wrote about Perth’s pathetic stadium predicament previously for the Footy Almanac (though more from a footy perspective) at http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/from-the-folly-of-subiaco-to-greener-pastures/, and the WACA (the Association, that is) have been every bit as guilty of the pigheadedness (and sense of entitlement on the public purse) as the WAFC. Each set of administrators have treated the Perth sporting public (ie. the fans of their sports – their key constituents, you would think) with the most horrible form of utter contempt.

Looking ahead, the new stadium at Burswood will provide some relief for WA cricket fans, though probably not in time for the next home Ashes series in 2017-18 (the stadium is scheduled to be ready for the 2018 AFL season, and past experience tells you that a Perth sporting stadium development is more likely to be 10 years behind schedule than 1 in front of it). If they can replicate the Harvey clay soils that sit under the bouncy WACA deck for drop-in pitches, presumably all international and Big Bash cricket will go to the swish new facilities – the issue then becomes convincing the ICC, Cricket Australia and the Perth public to suck it up for the 4 summers between now and then.

Meanwhile, the WACA Ground’s best hope for any future use is as a cut-down venue just for Shield games – essentially Perth’s equivalent of Alan Border Field or the Junction Oval. But then Floreat Oval or Lilac Hill (or even Richardson Park, with some development) could probably do that just as adequately as a chunk of prime real estate on the fringe of the CBD.

Lastly, it’s also got to be said that the WACA (the Association) didn’t exactly cover itself in glory during last week’s Test, which would have only fuelled the ICC’s criticisms of its Ground. Yes, the spectator areas are woefully unshaded (thereby exacerbating the extreme heat), but in a crowd of 20,000, you really shouldn’t have to line up (in the sun) for a half-hour to get food or drink – or to get inside the ground in the first place. They clearly couldn’t be bothered putting on sufficient staff or opening up enough queuing lanes at the gates (despite it being a sell-out, and them having plenty of experience on exactly what the spectator traffic and demand was going to be).

My last experience at the WACA (for this Test, and probably ever) was an appropriately sour one. After watching the first 2 sessions with my father, I left at Tea to get a flight back east to my wife and toddler – so I had made arrangements to meet my brother at Tea and give him my ticket, so that he and Dad could watch the last session together. As opposed to Melbourne or Brisbane where can simply scan your ticket out, the WACA staff tried to thwart us on this, using the antiquated practice of night-club stamps on wrists. When I protested and explained I was giving my ticket to my brother, I was told this was not allowed, and that this was exactly what they were trying to stop.

Let’s remember that the Day was a sell-out (ie. there was no option for my brother to buy a ticket). This was a purely a case of (i) do we let a cricket fan come in and watch a spectacle of our sport being showcased at its highest, on a ticket that has already been paid for, and have a full stadium with atmosphere, or (ii) do we want to have an empty seat. As it was, my brother out-smarted them (ie. their lack of good intentions is matched by their lack of competence), but the fact they wanted the latter spoke volumes once again of the WACA’s contempt for the Perth sporting public.

Comments

  1. Telling it like it is Brad. I won’t go to the WACA for exactly the reasons you say.
    I have lived in WA for 15+ years and there are 2 underlying factors that underpin poor public administration of all types:
    - Mining wealth has insulated against any of the sort of rationalisation/modernisation that has occurred in other states. Everything is run on a 1950′s/60′s model of localised parochialism (not just sport). The turkeys have always voted against Christmas.
    - Distance means that less people travel (except to Bali) so there is an unfounded belief in general populace that we must represent ‘best practice’. The Eagles only succeeded by bringing in Malthouse to shake up local narrow mindedness. The Dockers with Ross Lyon. Woosha was a Mick clone, but that approach has run its race, and you need the science and strategic vision that Simpson will bring to the Eagles. And don’t even start on the running joke of Perth Glory soccer ‘team/club’.
    You have hit the nail on the head. Well played Brad.

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Disappointing that the WACA seems to be on it’s last legs as an International venue. A city the size of Perth that is so well located for broadcasting into both the Eastern states and the Sub-Continent should have a world-class facility.Not knowing Perth well, will the new stadium be more accessable/better located than the WACA or Subiaco? Hopefully the bounce of the WACA pitches can be replicated in drop-in pitches at the new stadium.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Luke above has echoed my thoughts as well except for , 1 point there is no need to remove the wickets with the covers available and depth testing in case of dry weather re watering that cricket pitches can not remain it is my understanding that cricket did not fight any where near hard enough to keep th pitches in , Adelaide after all we are the drighest state in the driest continent in the world ! Overall pure the volume of footy played at the , G you can wear a bloody drop in but they should be no where else !
    The state of the waca with lack of amenities which is discussed constantly in the commentary it is amazing and incompetent that is has been allowed to occur purely the lack of shade is. a disgrace it is not rocket science to work out that just in number of days of the year major sporting complexes are used that it is only , Melbourne can justify having mor than 1 . Thanks Brad good article

  4. On the money! I’ve been going to the WACA for many years and always leave frustrated by the queues, service, and determined ability of the venue to stifle any entertainment value. The seating is angled poorly and so far from the action that it is hard to appreciate the game (even the MCG has a better viewing experience despite being further from the centre of the wicket). The people of Perth are too averse to change, but really the WACA needs to be sold off, the proceeds invested into the development of the game, and the international matches need to be shifted to the new Burswood stadium. No thanks to the governors of the venue that have spent $8 million of somebody else’s money on plans that have come to naught.

  5. Great insight Brad, deserves a wider audience.

    The only upside it seems is the Barmy Army being roasted in the outer whilst their team was being made toast on the field.

  6. Ben Footner says:

    Anyone lamenting the Adelaide Oval re-development should read this.

    If the vocal minority had had their way then Adelaide could well have been in the same situation as Perth is now.

  7. Brad Carr says:

    Guys, thanks all of you for your feedback. Apologies for my tardy follow-up, have been out on a drivig holiday with the family for most of the last fortnight, often in places with dubious internet connectivity, although at least the ABC radio keeps you company – hearing Chris Rogers bring up his Melbourne ton just as we entered Jerramungup (en route from Bremer Bay to Esperance) will stay with me for years to come.

    As Peter & Andy have alluded, the poor spectator experience drives people to simply not go… which can end up having devastating impacts on the long term sporting culture. I think this is an issue for cricket, but probably an even bigger one for footy, being a sport that doesn’t translate as well from being there live (and seeing the whole field) to tv (generally filmed in close-up).

    To Luke’s point, the new venue at Burswood will be slightly further from the CBD than the WACA is (and about the same as Subi is), but it will be on a rail line. Similar to the WACA, it will be on a peninsula in the river estuary, so road access to disperse a crowd won’t be great, but it is at least a greenfields site, where they have plenty of space to be able to design and build structures that are specific to the purpose (which you couldn’t do at Subi). Being on a riverbank (and just across the river from the WACA site), it will hopefully still get the Fremantle Doctor breeze as it comes up the river.

    The WACA (Association) will doubtlessly be running off cap in hand to the state govt, wanting more money to keep their own little venue. But the state has been building hospitals all over WA, funding roads for the nation’s major export ports, and recently was downgraded from AAA to AA+, and will have no capacity or appetite to fund their folly. As Malcolm rightly notes, a city with the size (and event frequency) of Melbourne can fund 2 stadia. The WACA needs to face up to the reality that Perth is not at that scale.

    And Peter, I share your views on the Eagles coaching job – I definitely felt the club needed new ideas, and was rapt that the hierarchy was prepared to heed that view. I reckon Adam Simpson is a terrific appointment – here’s hoping we are proven right.

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