Two years ago, rugby league boss Peter V’landys was being called ‘The Messiah’. Nowadays he’s known as ‘The Miser’.
After steering the game through the pandemic, V’landys could do no wrong. He was the darling of the media and the sports community, but by using the NRL grand final as a pawn in an attempt to pressure the NSW Government into spending $800million to upgrade three suburban grounds, he has shot himself in the foot.
‘Pressure’ is one way to describe what V’landys has tried to do. TV host Karl Stefanovic described it as ‘almost bribery’. Social media bloggers have gone further, calling it ‘blackmail’.
All three terms are equally suitable.
While he might say that all he has been trying to do is hold the NSW Government to a deal to upgrade the home grounds of the Sea Eagles, Tigers and Sharks for the good of rugby league, V’landys appears to have badly misjudged the mood of the people.
Where once he seemed popular enough to get elected prime minister on a wave of rapturous support, right now his approval rating is only marginally higher than that of on-the-nose ex-PM Scott Morrison.
Peter V’landys – once hailed as the NRL’s saviour in the pandemic – hasn’t read the room when it comes to getting the NSW Government to fork out a fortune on suburban footy grounds
The ARL Commission boss has been trying to strongarm the NSW Government (premier Dominic Perrottet, pictured) by threatening to move the NRL grand final to Brisbane
To the diehard Sydney rugby league fan perhaps V’landys has done nothing wrong. Certainly, long-suffering supporters of the Sea Eagles, Tigers and Sharks would applaud his tactics if it meant their antiquated home grounds got a multi-million-dollar facelift.
As they would say, all he did was try to keep the government to its word. The fact that he threatened to back down on his part of the agreement – to play the NRL grand final exclusively in Sydney until at least 2046 – and used the biggest match on the footy calendar as a bargaining chip, is immaterial.
Who cares if the government now needs the money to help flood victims, they’d argue, a deal is a deal.
Which is one way to look at it. The self-interested way.
At the heart of the dispute are suburban grounds like Leichhardt Oval in Sydney’s inner west (pictured). V’landys fails to realise most people don’t want a fortune spent on stadiums that only host a few games a year when the cash is needed for schools and flood relief
The other way is to question why the taxpayer should have to foot the bill for suburban football grounds in the first place.
The $800million would come out of public coffers. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said it should go towards the estimated $4billion cost of the devastating floods that ravaged northern NSW and parts of Queensland earlier this year.
It is an emotive argument which has been boosted by a factor that V’landys and his supporters seem to have overlooked: not everyone likes rugby league.
If their tax dollars are going to be handed out, the non-footy faithful would prefer they go to worthy causes like flood relief, or hospitals, schools and roads, rather than feathering the nests of football clubs.
Maybe even better facilities for junior sport which, unlike the NRL, is driven by volunteers.
As one media site comment put it, ‘If the NRL and councils want their stadiums upgraded, use their own money not (that of) the taxpayers of NSW. A three-way split – local councils, NRL and the clubs.’
The NRL grand final went to Brisbane in 2021 because it had to due to the pandemic, but this year’s biggest game is being used as a tool to beat the NSW Government into submission (pictured, Penrith after winning the 2021 title)
It’s a fair argument. The only people who really benefit from an upgraded football stadium (apart from the clubs who rake in the income from increased ticket sales and plush corporate boxes) are the fans who roll up to a maximum of around 15 games a year.
Far more sit at home and view the games on TV, which is why the NRL is paid billions of dollars for the commercial rights. Billions of dollars, the non-rugby league community believes, that should go towards upgrading the grounds.
If V’landys thinks voters will turn on the NSW Government because the grand final has left Accor Stadium (where the Roosters won the 2019 title, pictured) he underestimates how little they care where it’s held – and how many of them hate going to the ground
And there is another thing that V’landys and his fellow commissioners seem to have missed as they threatened to take the grand final away from NSW and hand it to Queensland: does anyone really care where the game is played?
Whether it is in front of 82,500 at Accor Stadium at Homebush, or 52,500 at Suncorp Stadium, it is, first and foremost, a TV event. The city in which it is played is largely irrelevant.
More to the point, a quick glance at comments online confirms that the people of NSW find Accor an unappealing venue stuck out in the middle of nowhere that is hard to get to, and even harder to get out of.
Likewise, the people of Queensland are sick and tired of their Premier ‘Red Carpet’ Annastacia Palaszczuk throwing millions of dollars of public funds to secure one-off events that they believe are nothing more than photo-ops for her and her ministers.
Seems like for once Peter V’Landys misread the room.
Or maybe he just read his own press too much.