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Athletics Victoria kept in dark on park move
Friday 14th August 2009  |  More News

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Athletics Victoria was kept in the dark about the State Government's controversial decision to move the state athletics centre from its long-term home at Olympic Park, according to the sporting group.

Correspondence to Premier John Brumby from Athletics Victoria - obtained by The Age - complains that it was not advised of the relocation announcement made last April.

The revelations follow a report in The Age that a series of secret meetings between the State Government and the Collingwood Football Club resulted in the decision to shift the Victorian Institute of Sport from its Olympic Park base - only four years after it moved in.

In April 2008, Mr Brumby, a keen Collingwood supporter, announced a $50 million plan to relocate Athletics Victoria and the VIS to Albert Park.

But just days later, president of Athletics Victoria Anne Lord wrote to the Premier stating it was ''very disappointing the AV was not advised in advance of the announcement''. ''AV was placed in the difficult position of being asked to respond to the relocation announcement without sufficient notice or detail,'' she wrote in the letter, obtained under freedom of information.

''After numerous discussions with representatives from AV on this issue the actions of your Government this week were unsatisfactory.''

Mr Brumby responded to the letter in July, writing that the Albert Park venue would bring big benefits to athletics, but he did not respond to the concerns raised by the athletics group about not being informed of the announcement.

Yesterday, Mr Brumby said Sports Minister James Merlino had several discussions in 2007 with relevant organisations and the decision to move related to government building the new rectangular stadium.

Mr Merlino has said informal discussions were held with the VIS and Athletics Victoria before the announcement.

The relocation decision shocked the VIS as $13 million in taxpayer funds was spent redeveloping its Olympic Park headquarters, which originally housed the 1956 Olympic Games swimming pool.

VIS supporters and athletics officials have told The Age the Government remains sensitive about Collingwood's involvement in the plan to relocate track-and-field to Albert Park.

Although government relations have improved, Olympic sports administrators believe the $50 million allocated by the Government to shift track and field and the VIS to Albert Park is not enough. Despite lobbying by Athletics Australia for up to $20 million more, the Government has refused to provide extra money.

There are also concerns that the construction plans for the Albert Park venue have fallen behind schedule, leading to fears Melbourne could lose its International Association of Athletics Federation world tour meeting, the only top-class athletics event held in Australia.

A spokesman for Mr Merlino said the budget allocation remained at $50.3 million, but the amount could vary once the tender for a builder for Albert Park was concluded.

Athletics officials and VIS sources are also scathing of the plans put forward by the Government for their new Albert Park home, saying they were ill-prepared and inferior to what they had at Olympic Park.

The new Albert Park venue does not include a budget for lighting for TV broadcasts, an electronic scoreboard or video replay screens.

David Rood and Richard Baker
The Age


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