By Michael Cockerill
2 August 2012 - Sydney Morning Herald
Federal minister Tony Burke will meet with the key stakeholders of Belmore Sports Ground this morning to fine-tune plans for possible further redevelopment of the stadium.
The meeting between Burke, the local MP for Watson, and the Canterbury Bulldogs, Canterbury Council and Sydney Olympic has been scheduled to discuss a possible second round of funding that could eventually lead to a main upgrade of the outer ground, Peter Moore Field, to accommodate the future needs of Sydney Olympic - the former NSL champions now playing in the semi-professional NSW Premier League.
The two clubs have been at odds over the use of the main stadium in recent weeks, but Canterbury Council general manager Jim Montague refutes suggestions he wants to squeeze out Olympic - who have a lease until 2032 - so the Bulldogs can take effective control of the stadium.
"I don't want this portrayed as a war between the council, the Bulldogs and Olympic," he said. "I am working hard to get both clubs to co-exist. There's no way we're trying to freeze Olympic out. I understand their needs and we're doing our very best to accommodate them."
A simmering dispute between the NRL heavyweights and Olympic has been escalating since the football side was barred from playing at the ground in early June because of the deterioration of the playing surface. Despite forcing Olympic off Belmore for their past five premier league fixtures - including a late switch to Lambert Park last weekend just a day after they had been told they could return - Canterbury Council has allowed the Bulldogs to continue training on the field. Officially, the Bulldogs are only allowed to train on the perimeters while the main part of the field is roped off, but the Herald has photographs that clearly show the NRL side training through the middle.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler denies he has bent the rules: "No, no the oval's marked with clear specifications. We've just been training in the 20s [quarters] so we've co-operated with all the restrictions put on us by the council."
Montague initially rejected claims the Bulldogs might have pushed the boundaries on ground use, before admitting they were allowed goal-kicking practice, and then suggesting the impact of the NRL side training on the ground was far less severe than Olympic playing competitive fixtures. The Bulldogs again trained on the ground yesterday, reaffirming Olympic's view that the pitch is now playable, which they have photographic evidence to support.
Despite that, the premier league has taken the pre-emptive stance of shifting this weekend's match against Blacktown City to Seven Hills. Asked when Olympic might be able to return to Belmore, Montague replied: "We will keep the ground under assessment and we will be guided by our professional advice." Montague later said the entire playing surface would be relaid following remedial drainage work due to start at the end of next month.
At the heart of the dispute is the terms of the $8.7 million government grant - driven by Burke - handed down in 2010 to revitalise Belmore after the stadium began falling into disrepair following the Bulldogs' decision in 2005 to move their playing and training base to Homebush Bay.
The point of contention is whether both clubs were to be granted equal leases under the terms of the funding. In the interim, Canterbury Council has offered Sydney Olympic sub-tenancy terms, while the Bulldogs have been offered the head lease of the ground.
Neither club has signed the documents, although in recent days there have been indications from the Bulldogs they are ready to commit. The bulk of the government funding has been used to upgrade the Bulldogs' administration area and gym.