Sports funding for teams such as the Hurricanes, Lions, Phoenix, Pulse and Saints could shape as a key battleground this campaign. It has become a hot topic and one that looks likely to separate the mayoral candidates.
Deputy Mayor, Justin Lester, has jumped at the chance to back funding support for the embattled Phoenix football team as part of his campaign to knock off his boss. While Paul Eagle has come out saying he wants the Council to sponsor Wellington Rugby in return for players acting as champions for community initiatives.
Eagle has also highlighted the risk of those pesky northern neighbours in Porirua, luring the Saints basketball team to Te Rauparaha Arena after already securing the vast majority of Pulse netball games. Hutt City of course has tried its hand at taking sporting events from Wellington, hosting Phoenix games at Hutt Recreation Ground as well as All Black warm up events.
Of course, none of this is unique to Wellington – Auckland Council pour money into the Blues Super Rugby team and the Warriors league team and even paid World Cup winning All Black, Jerome Kaino, $100,000 to promote public transport.
But mayoral candidate and Lambton ward Councillor, Nicola Young, has come out swinging, saying that Council should not be providing funding to ‘professional sports teams’ and that the focus should be on community or grassroots sports facilities and clubs.
Young has made no secret of not being a big sports fan – and would probably struggle to name many ‘grassroots’ sports clubs. But she is well known as a big supporter of the arts sector… which is where things could very well come unstuck.
WCC pour money into the arts and prides itself on branding the City as the cultural capital of New Zealand. So the question is, will Young apply the same policy of only funding community or grassroots arts and cultural activity, and effectively remove the subsidies paid to professional outfits such as the NZSO, creating the risk that they may move to Auckland.
The New Zealand Festival is already battling head-to-head with the now annual Auckland Festival. Would Council support for WOW end? Auckland Council with its events war-chest would no doubt jump at the chance to pick off events like that.
Even the relatively small Wellington Jazz Festival would be under threat if Young applies her sports funding policy consistently. The Jazz Festival only attracts a few hundred people each year and is almost totally reliant on Council money. But this funding goes directly towards attracting and paying for American Grammy Award winning professional jazz musicians and singers… not exactly community level.
Where would Wellington be without any major sporting or cultural organisations? And would drawing an arbitrary line that blocks funding to professionals such as rugby teams or the NZSO provide a helping hand up to Auckland Council?