A movement to keep the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra is gathering steam, with a former CEO of the Australian Sports Commission questioning the "sense" of moving around the AIS in support of major events such as the Olympic Games.
Jim Ferguson, who is also a past president of ACT Rugby Union, is also backed by the federal opposition in concern about the new independent review into the ageing, partly run-down AIS and is urging the "national home of sport" to stay in the national capital.
The Albanese government has ordered a two-person, two and a half month review of the AIS that will consider what a recent AIS masterplan found was a $1 billion price tag, and an additional four-year relocation time frame, for moving the facility to south-east Queensland ahead of the 2032 Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics.
Mr Ferguson, who headed the Sports Commission from 1990 to 2000, has told The Canberra Times he thinks it "strange" to conduct a review after his former body knocked it back.
"My understanding is that the board of the Sports Commission has conducted a review and come up with a number of different options, and has come up with the conclusion that Canberra is the best option for the AIS," Mr Ferguson said.
"The board of the Sports Commission is appointed to run the Sports Commission, which includes the AIS. So I would have thought that, on that principle, they should be allowed to make those decisions."
The former commission head said the AIS should stay for several reasons and he looked forward to contributing to the review. He said it is a national institution and Canberra is an appropriate place for national institutions. He also said it has been extremely successful over the years and any move would be very expensive and reduce certainty for training athletes.
While the current AIS Bruce campus needs refurbishment, Mr Ferguson suggested areas such as athlete accommodation could be paid for by commercial means.
"It's all gonna cost money. Absolutely. And that's the problem because it was allowed to run down so badly. If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't be in this position," he said.
"But it's going to cost a lot less money to refurbish what is already there. It's not at all bad. Some of it is still actually quite good, but it will cost a lot more to relocate than to refurbish what's there."
Queensland officials have been lobbying to move the AIS for several years, garnering support from another former sports commission chairman John Wylie.
Mr Ferguson said he understands why the AIS should be associated with a home Games, but moving it does not "stack up".
"We have the Games in Sydney that the AIS was in Canberra. And we've done remarkably well at recent Olympic Games with the AIS in Canberra. So I don't think that makes any sense at all," he said.
"What happens if Victoria then gets an Olympic Games does it move it back to Victoria?"
Mr Ferguson joins former AOC President John Coates and Canberra figures such as Chief Minister Andrew Barr, independent ACT senator David Pocock, federal Labor MPs Andrew Leigh, David Smith and Alicia Payne in urging the AIS stays in the ACT despite the uncertainty of location raised by the new review.
The Opposition's infrastructure spokesperson, and former Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie also said she is "very, very passionate about Canberra being the home of the AIS".
"Does it need an upgrade? Absolutely. And it was something that Peter Conde, the former head of the AIS and I discussed regularly and began the draft planning work on," the Senator said.
"There is a lot of land out there. Which, if the ACT government was of a mind to actually look at how to use that land, how to value capture that land over decades to come, those car parks become very, very expensive plots of land for housing.
"That money could then be used to not just have a great new stadium in the heart of Canberra for the Raiders, but also our fabulous elite athletes to have a state-of-the-art training facility."
The Opposition's spokesperson for sport Anne Ruston has accused the Albanese government of creating an "unnecessary political distraction".
"It is ridiculous that the government thinks now is the right time to be doing a review into the role and location of the Australian Institute of Sport," she said.
"The priority for both the AIS and the government should be fighting for an Australian solution to the 2026 Commonwealth Games, and ensuring our athletes are supported as they prepare for the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games."
The review is due to deliver its report before the end of the year with options for consideration by government.
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