Canberra's ice sports, via the ACT Ice Sports Federation (ACTISF), have been campaigning for three years to establish the National Ice Sports Centre, working with a range of stakeholders, including representatives from all sides of ACT politics, community and sports groups, and Active Canberra. To their credit, the Territory's political leaders so far have backed the federation and have shown their support for new ice sports facilities — the most overdue sporting infrastructure in the territory.
Community concerns about the current facility, which includes an outdoor swimming pool as well as the recent focus in The Canberra Times on the facility's age and operational capacity, reflects some of the key challenges facing the ice sports community, and reflects some of the key issues stakeholders must consider when working to ensure the future of ice sports in Canberra.
The Phillip Ice Rink is not just a facility for Woden; it is a facility that services all of the ACT and southern NSW, attracting ice sports enthusiasts from all over the capital and beyond, with some people regularly commuting from Yass, Jerrabomberra, Queanbeyan, Goulburn, Cooma and even as far as Albury to play their sports of choice.
We recognise there are some Canberrans who are not happy about the prospect of the Phillip swimming pool closing, and that they will have to travel to Stromlo to enjoy a swim. While we are not dismissing this concern, from the perspective of our ice sports community, there is only one ice rink in Canberra, and if it closes, the ice sports community will have to commute to Liverpool in Sydney (the next nearest rink).
In reality, if the Phillip rink closes before a new facility is operational, the impact on ice hockey, figure skating, broomball, community skating and school programs would be devastating; it would take years to rebuild the ranks of athletes, coaches, officials, and judges, and it would take years to bring back the spectators and sponsors who make our sports financially viable.
The Phillip ice rink is 37 years old, making it, along with Adelaide's Thebarton Rink, two of the oldest ice rinks in Australia. For the last two years, South Australia's ice sports community has suffered significant ice rink breakdowns, which have led to cancellation of national broomball championships, interruptions with national junior ice hockey championships, Adelaide-based national league teams forgoing training prior to national championships, and serious consideration whether to withdraw permanently Adelaide's teams from national league competitions.
Thankfully, the South Australian government has now stepped up, and is working with the private sector and the SA ice sports community to develop not one, but two new twin-sheet (i.e. two rinks in the one facility) facilities in Adelaide; basically ensuring their continuity and survival long-term.
The rink at Phillip is not a standard size, resulting in Canberra's ineligibility to host national figure skating championships or short track speed skating competitions. Simply put, it doesn't meet the minimum size requirement. Canberra is losing out on opportunities to host major events in ice sports, and as a result, the costs for Canberra's athletes increase considerably (noting ice sports are already expensive), as participants must travel interstate to compete at major championships. A second "penalty" is that our awesome Canberra ice sports athletes are training in a venue approximately 80 per cent of the standard size. This is the equivalent of coaching an Olympic swimmer in a 40m pool or a 100m runner on an 80m track. Our athletes readily acknowledge this impacts their performance when they compete interstate, and overseas. Yet our athletes are regularly holding their own at national and even international level in spite of these conditions. Imagine how awesome Canberra's ice sports athletes could be if there were facilities that met the competition size standards.
Ice time is at a premium, with only a single ice rink available, and this leads to scenarios where school-aged figure skaters and ice hockey athletes are training and playing from 6am or as late as 11pm. For our local ice hockey leagues, with around 500 registered players, 'ice time' has reached saturation point; with league organisers now rejecting prospective athletes from starting, as they simply cannot accommodate them. The flow-on effect results in a loss of prospective players, coaches, officials, volunteers, spectators and sponsors. A restructure of ice hockey seasons -- moving two ACT leagues from winter to summer to accommodate demand — has helped address this saturation in the short-term, but as a consequence, referees, coaches, scorers and off-ice officials, all of whom are volunteers, now do not have an off-season. Their voluntary efforts over a full 12 months each year is leading to burn out; and good people are being lost.
The Phillip ice rink has served us well for 37 years and we are very grateful, but simply put, its best years are well and truly behind it, and it no longer meets the specifications required as we move forward. The ice sports community needs a new functional facility that can cope with the current and future growth of the sports, meet the proper size standards, has modern support facilities and attracts athletes, parents, spectators and sponsors alike. Moreover, the ACTISF — a partnership of Ice Hockey ACT, ACT Ice Skating Association, Broomball ACT and the CBR Brave — seeks a venue of which we can be proud and can call home; a venue that reflects our status as the nation's capital and the gateway to the Snowy Mountains (and the other Olympic winter sports).
The opportunity is to build not just another Canberra rink, but to establish the National Ice Sports Centre (a twin sheet facility) here in the national capital — a venue where our young future Canberran ice sports stars can dare to dream — and the smart play is for the ice sports groups, the local community, the private sector, and the ACT government, to work together to achieve replacement ice sports facilities before the inevitable occurs, and all is lost.
Tony Prescott is the ACT Ice Sports Federation president.