A controversial decision by the Albury City Council to block NRL team Melbourne Storm from using public facilities for training has sparked deep divisions between the council and the local community.
- The decision to deny Melbourne Storm access to public facilities for training has split the community
- There are fears the decision to block the club from using council facilities will hurt Albury’s sporting reputation
- Melbourne Storm says it is happy to begin training today at an alternative venue in Albury
At an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night, the council voted formally 5–4 to oppose hosting the Victorian team, which had planned to train at the city’s Greenfield Park.
The team moved to Albury yesterday after the New South Wales Government gave it permission to relocate to train away from Victoria’s tight Stage 3 pandemic restrictions.
But Albury councillors were angry they were not consulted about the team using council facilities while members of the public were not allowed.
The council vote, which prevents the team using any council facilities, still caught a lot of local residents by surprise.
Board member at local league club Albury Thunder and former NRL player Mike Eden was one them.
“I was surprised that the vote went that way; earlier in the day we were seeing 7–2 maybe 6–3,” Mr Eden said.
“They’ve [council] got a Victorian contractor building a very largely overbudgeted Lavington Sports Ground, bringing tradies in and allowing them to work on council property.
“We were a bit shocked. It is obviously one rule for the Melbourne Storm and another rule for other employees.”
He was worried the decision would impact all future potential sporting events on the border, not just NRL.
The Storm instead trained at the Albury Sportsground, which is traditionally home the local Aussie Rules club the Albury Tigers.
Storm retains sunny optimism
Melbourne Storm CEO Dave Donaghy said the team understood some of council’s concerns and would not hold the decision against the local community.
“I am not going to hold the City of Albury to hostage over a decision that was made which ultimately hasn’t impacted our plans,” he said.
“It’s a great rugby league part of Australia.”
He said the Storm was pleased with Plan B at the Albury Sportsground.
“The field itself, I have been told, is one of the best surfaces in NSW. I know the boys are looking forward to going out and having a run on the field today.”
Council remains divided
Albury City councillor, Henk van de Ven, described the decision as “churlish”.
“The protocols that have been designed for their attendance here in Albury are stronger biosecurity restrictions than what we currently have in place by both the NSW and Australian Government,” he said.
But not all councillors thought it was worth the risk, despite the widespread criticism.
“How do we expect our community … to continue to follow the stringent regime in place with an exemption like this?”
Albury Mayor Kevin Mack said the city remained strongly supportive of the Melbourne Storm.
He said councillors had declined the club’s request to use council facilities for training to protect the community’s health and safety during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We note that it is not Council’s decision whether or not the club can train in Albury [but the resolution] applies only to the use of facilities managed by Council,” Mr Mack said in a statement.