Space is the final frontier as more young players enter the field

Space is the final frontier as more young players enter the field

Where do the children play … football training gets under way at Birchgrove Oval. Competition for sporting fields is becoming fierce as the number of players rises.MORE people are playing sport in Sydney than ever before but some are having difficulty finding somewhere to play. Councils are struggling to free up public space and competition for the use of sporting fields is causing tension.

The demand is likely to grow over the next decade. There are almost 30,000 more children aged under four in greater Sydney than in 2006, according to the latest census data. This age group has grown at a rate almost double the wider population.

In some of the most densely populated inner-city suburbs, local sport teams have to contend with other clubs and codes, as well as recreational users.

The latest figures from the Australian Sports Commission show one in five people over age 15 in NSW participate in physical activity once or twice a week.

In Leichhardt, the state’s fourth-most densely populated council, there has been an ongoing dispute over which football codes should have priority at Birchgrove Oval.

A local Labor councillor, Darcy Byrne, has been campaigning against the Greens council, which he says wants to give Australian rules priority over a local football club.

The decision was deferred at Tuesday’s council meeting, pending certified evidence of local AFL membership.

The mayor, Rochelle Porteous, said her council had tried to be as even-handed as possible.

”They have to be shared,” she said. ”There needs to be a fair distribution of sporting fields.”

Councillor Byrne argues there is a sporting field crisis in the inner west and clubs are being pitted against each other. Local clubs from various codes have been lobbying the council to fund more grounds.

”Inner-city kids don’t have backyards, so increasing access to sporting fields, parks and playgrounds is critical for their health and wellbeing,” he said.

Last week, the mayor of Hornsby, Nick Berman, ejected someone from a council meeting for the first time in eight years after a ”big blow-up” about the potential use of a former pony club site.

Cr Berman has made freeing up public space a priority. The council recently bought the West Epping Panthers Bowling Club, which is expected to be converted into sporting facilities.

The main impediments to creating recreational space, he says, include red tape, costs and a lack of vision at state government level. “And the population is growing quicker than there is land that’s available to be used for recreation,” he said.

The NSW Sports Federation, which represents about 90 different organised sports, says a ”co-operative approach” is needed.

”It’s a shared resource and sports have to be very reasonable and co-operative rather than highly competitive,” the chief executive of the federation, Ross Turner, said.

”When this is all boiled down this is about physical activity, it’s about social cohesion and it’s about wellbeing.”

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