Premier weighs in on Comets’ park lands fence fiasco

Premier Peter Malinauskas says Adelaide City Council’s decision to knock back a fence around an Ellis Park soccer pitch is “crazy” – and the club shares his disappointment. 

Feb 16, 2024, updated Feb 16, 2024
The existing condition of Adelaide Comets Football Club, visible from West Terrace. This photo: Adelaide Comets via LANDSKAP

The existing condition of Adelaide Comets Football Club, visible from West Terrace. This photo: Adelaide Comets via LANDSKAP

Malinauskas criticised the council’s decision to reject upgrades to the Adelaide Comets Football Club western park lands home ground, funded by a state government grant.

“Here we have got the Adelaide City Council getting in the way of young people playing sport in the park lands – I think that’s crazy,” Malinauskas said.

“Here is the state government investing in infrastructure on land owned by the council, we would have thought they’d welcome that and actively facilitate it rather than getting in the way of it.”

The proposed upgrades to the club’s home ground at Ellis Park/Tampawardli are valued at approximately $550,000 and are funded by a grant through the Office of Recreation, Sport and Racing.

The funding was a pre-election commitment, granting the club $1.75 million to upgrade the facilities to improve the pitch surface and upgrade facilities to meet Football SA requirements to host the men’s and women’s National Premier League games. 

The main sticking point for the council decision was the request for a permanent, 1.1-metre tall mesh fence lining the pitch perimeter.

Despite the City Community Services and Culture Committee recommending Council approve the upgrades last week, it was ultimately rejected at the council meeting on Tuesday night, with five councillors voting against the motion. 

They were concerned the fence would act as a disincentive for the public to use the area, even with the specifications that the fence would not have locks and would be open on non-game days. 

The Premier said that a fence “just facilitates a game being actually played”. 

“There are sporting fields throughout our park lands and always has been, and they’re entirely publicly accessible,” he said.

“When there’s a game being played the public will normally walk around the oval if you’re in the middle of a game.

“In politics sometimes your mind boggles, but in local politics, in the Adelaide City Council it seems like that’s happening on a highly frequent basis.”

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Deputy Lord Mayor Keiran Snape, who voted against the upgrades this week, told InDaily that the nationally listed park lands should be free and accessible for everyone.

“We’re lucky the state government doesn’t have custodianship of the park lands, otherwise we’d have a couple of sports fields completely engulfed by concrete buildings and car parks in its entirety,” Snape said.

In a letter to Comets players, members and parents on February 14, the Adelaide Comets said the decision was “unfair, unjust and could seriously impact the future of our club”.

“Whilst the city of Adelaide council staff have been very supportive throughout the upgrades, some elected members have made it clear that they will never support aspects of the upgrade, particularly the perimeter fencing,” the statement read. 

The Comets’ letter went on to say that the club engaged specialist consultants to assist in providing the documents to meet council processes, which was time-consuming and required them to spend grant funds.

The club said that because of the costs of creating the council-required proposal documents, they were unable to proceed with planned purchases of equipment, such as mini-roos and junior goals, new nets and other associated ground equipment. 

“We will not give up or let this deter us from creating a home for all players,” the club said. 

The CEO of Football SA, Michael Carter, also released a statement in support of the Comets. 

Football SA expresses its deepest concern at the recent decision by the Adelaide City Council to decline the completion of this precinct as it clearly challenges the Adelaide Comets Football Club both financially and socially,” the statement read. 

Snape says building fences and charging entry goes against the spirit of open, accessible park lands, but that “the vast majority of elected members want to see the club thrive”.

“A good compromise would be a retractable or removable fence, however, I understand the league rules won’t support that,” he said.

“I would urge the league to make an exception.”

The decision is expected to be reviewed by the Council in the coming weeks. The Premier said while the government has “demonstrated an appetite to intervene where it’s appropriate to do so, wouldn’t it be better if sanity prevailed?”

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