Sporting codes clash over field shortage
SPORT is considered to be an even playing field; but for Hammers president Jason McPherson it feels like anything but in Gympie.
The region’s rugby union boss is pushing for equal access to the region’s fields as the sport faces an explosion of young players.
But carving extra space to give new juniors a run is proving a challenge, particularly with rugby league playing multiple nights out of Jack Stokes Oval and Albert Park.
“We want four Friday nights, that’s all,” he said.
Mr McPherson has been working for the past two years to find a solution to allow rugby union to grow.
Putting it under a media spotlight was the last option, he said.
“This isn’t about bashing a club,” he said.
“This is about getting some equality for these kids.”
But Gympie Junior Rugby League president Jeff Cranston said the region’s sports fields were already under pressure.
“What it comes down to is there isn’t enough facilities in this town,” Mr Cranston said.
“There isn’t an option here for another club to start up another junior competition.”
But Mr McPherson said it was not just youth and women's rugby union at risk of missing out thanks to the Hammers’ lack of a lease at any field.
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He said other opportunities could be left on the table too.
“We want to be able to apply for grants,” Mr McPherson said
“There’s some serious money for women’s rugby available; we could probably get the grandstand painted so it’s not coming out of the local purse.”
In past years, Caloundra nabbed $1.6 million in federal funding and Maroochydore snagged $329,000 for upgrades, he said.
“Because we’re showing the growth we are … there’s some serious dollars to be had,” Mr McPherson said.
A 2019 council report into the region’s rugby union facility options noted this growth means “accommodating training for the expected player numbers will be difficult”.
It said the Hammers are this year predicted to have more than 200 under-12 players, field one under-13 team, and under-15 teams for boys and girls.
This would be a significant jump on 2019’s numbers, which included only 30 juniors.
It would bring the Hammers’ junior numbers within range of those for Gympie’s Junior Rugby League, which the report said sat at 340 last year.
Including seniors, the 2019 player base was 455.
However the report said an expected lack of growth in the region’s 5-34 age group made it “difficult to see any future major increases in rugby league participation”.
Mr Cranston questioned the accuracy of the report’s rugby union figures, which he said count both club and school union participation.
“If you want to look at club, we have got 350 members already,” he said.
“The Hammers will be lucky to get 100 in their club.
“Those numbers in that report are not actually the factual statement of the situation in this town.”
GJRL’s $112 per year lease at Jack Stokes Oval was renewed last May by Gympie Regional Council.
It will run for another decade.
Albert Park is managed by the Gympie Recreation Association but the agreement between it and the council was not renewed and left on the table by councillors last November.
The council’s rugby league report notes league uses all fields on Jack Stokes Oval and Albert Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
On Friday evenings, all Albert Park fields are used for junior training, and senior training is occasionally held on one of Jack Stokes’ fields.
Jack Stokes hosts rugby league all day Saturday and occasional Sunday afternoon matches.
The Hammers seniors train at Albert Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and its juniors train on Saturday mornings.
All matches are played at Albert Park on Saturdays.
Rugby union’s junior player numbers this year are expected to explode; more than 200 players are expected for under 12 players alone.
Mr McPherson said it was proposed league and union swap fields for 2020 “to see how it works” … and the response he got back was “no, we believe we need to keep control of both facilities”.
Mr Cranston suggested any solution may lie in other areas, like One Mile.
“Surely there’s got to be other alternatives,” Mr Cranston said.