You dont know what youve got till its gone

On Sunday I drove past the newly built cricket nets at Nielson Park and saw a small bunch of young kids having a bit of a bat and bowl. I was filled with a warm nostalgic feeling. As a kid I virtually lived at the Blair Oval nets. They were free and open, like the Nielson Park nets are, and I would bowl at all comers for hours on end. Sadly, over time, some kids, for one reason or another, took to vandalising the pitches and consequently the council started to lock them up, excluding the good kids while keeping out the bad ones.

Maintenance of communal sporting areas always presents a difficult situation for the bodies responsible. How do you stop them from being vandalised? Personally, I think keeping them open and populated is the best way, but the Fort Knox theory works as well, although this excludes many.

Crozier Oval, we were informed at the last Lismore City Council meeting, has suffered $15-20,000 worth of damage in the last 12 months, mostly after dark, despite being locked up at night. Now they intend to lock up the once communal space both day and night.

I always find it sad when the community loses access to open spaces; when a little bit more of the commons is gobbled up. Vandalism is a great veil for making these spaces available only to sectional interests who want to use these entertainment venues so they can make money.

Sad as it is, I accept the fact that Crozier and Oakes Oval have both been sectionalised and arent communal lands anymore. They are instead venues provided by ratepayers for sport as an entertainment. So lets subdivide them or re-gazette them or whatever legal business is necessary so the rest of Lismore Park can be kept free and open, rather than let them reclassify the entire park, which is currently Councils agenda.

The problem we are facing is one of terminology as much as anything. When we speak of sport often we find ourselves talking about two distinctly different phenomena which we call sport; sport as an entertainment and sport as a communal recreation.

The essential difference is involvement and accessibility. Sport was originally something we played, but now, more often that not, its something we watch. Thats a huge difference and the fact that we refer to theses completely different behaviours with the same word is absurd, and dangerous.

Communal recreational sport is played on communal ground; everyone can come and watch for free and if theyre willing, can sign-up or get a group together and play as well. These grounds are generally sustained by local governments with the players occasionally paying a nominal fee to help with the up-keep of the grounds. These fees have traditionally been kept as low as possible because local governments felt that sport (the communal activity) was a great way to get people together, give them some much-needed exercise and have a good time. Thats why Ballina Shire Council still provides their fields free of charge to encourage and support sporting groups within their community. Considering the growing number of obese men, women and children we share this part of the world with, free, open lands have never been needed more.

Dont misunderstand me, I enjoy watching sport as entertainment. I love to watch players slide headlong across the ground and trap a ball inches from the boundary, flip up and fire a bullet 80m over the bails. I know how impossible that is, but these players do it time and again without even raising a sweat. Its amazing and inspiring and we should have venues so we can see the professional teams show off their talents.

But lets not forget that each of those sporting heroes was once just a kid who wanted to go and have a hit at the nets. If we want to continue to be a nation of sporting champions we must be vigilant. We must keep our communal fields free and open.


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