MURRAY United FC soccer team has secured $300,000 in Wodonga Council funding at a time when the city’s Australian Rules facilities, including Martin Park, remain at substandard levels.
The fledgling club, which will play in the National Premier League from next year, has been allocated $180,000 next financial year and a further $120,000 in the following year for improvements to its home ground at La Trobe University.
Former Wodonga mayor Mark Byatt, who is Murray United’s inaugural chairman, declared a conflict of interest in the funding support when the council passed its draft budget last month.
The council will adopt the draft budget at its June 23 meeting.
Fellow councillor Mike Fraser also declared a conflict of interest as a board member for the club.
Meantime, Wodonga Football-Netball Club is no closer to securing funding for a major upgrade of its changerooms and grandstand at Martin Park which has been on the council’s radar since 2003.
Wodonga Raiders’ netball facilities redevelopment has been plunged into doubt after the club missed out on a $166,000 state government grant to go with $275,000 from the council.
AFL research shows Wodonga is trailing other major regional centres including Bendigo and Ballarat in participation numbers in Australian Rules football, despite being one of the fastest growing cities in the state.
Only 12 per cent of Wodonga’s male population aged between 5 and 39 years is playing Aussie rules compared with the statewide average of about 20 per cent.
Wodonga mayor Rod Wangman said the funding was crucial in securing the licence for Murray United FC.
“We’ve made a decision on the basis of a licence being advantageous to the future of soccer and junior soccer in our regional area,” he said.
“The council has spent money at Martin Park over past years and put money into improving the ground.
“It is a partnership between what council can do, but they also need to be able to contribute to their facilities.”
AFL North East Border regional manager John O’Donohue said Aussie rules was under threat from rival codes such as soccer, rugby and rugby league and facilities were at the heart of the issue.
“There is a level of urgency about not only improving the quality, but also the number of footy facilities in Wodonga,” he said.
“It is affecting our ability to grow the game.
“If we can get the environment right, match that with facilities and get the right people inv-olved, we have potential to grow the game.
“But we need all those things to line up.”