Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Maze was no Aviva

Irish rugby unveiled its new home on Saturday.  The Aviva Stadium, situated on the site of the old Lansdowne Road ground, is a gleaming glass and steel structure which, despite reservations about its capacity for Six Nations matches, instantly becomes Ireland's most impressive sports' venue.

In Northern Ireland the chances of a multi-sports arena being built in the foreseeable future died with plans for a stadium at the Maze.  In today's Belfast Telegraph I anticipate the complaints that we too could've had a world class facility and I argue that the middle of nowhere was never a plausible location.

a city centre arena, like the one unveiled in Dublin, was never on offer in Northern Ireland. The Government, backed by Sinn Fein and the DUP's former Culture Minister, Edwin Poots, repeatedly stressed that it was the Maze or nothing.
The prevailing wisdom of town-planners, developers and academics was against an out-of-town development. Examples of similar projects elsewhere also suggested that it was a bad idea, but the sports' governing bodies were told that no alternative would receive official sanction.
Served by inadequate transport links and lacking any other infrastructure, the Maze was an unlikely site for a world-class facility and a prime location for a 'white elephant'.
The IFA, the Ulster Branch and the GAA did eventually sign up to the proposals, but their backing was always lukewarm. Fans, who were, after all, to be the end users of any stadium, were even less enthusiastic.
True, the GAA fraternity, accustomed to showpiece occasions at rural venues, was comfortable enough with the Maze plans. Ulster Rugby supporters were prepared to tolerate some Heineken Cup matches played outside Belfast, but there was no appetite to relocate, wholesale, from Ravenhill.
The vast bulk of Northern Ireland football fans were still less equivocal, rejecting, in no uncertain terms, the IFA's acceptance of the Maze as a future home for the international team.
Some pundits and nationalist politicians were quick to dismiss these legitimate concerns and imply a political undercurrent to the supporters' objections.
In fact, the fans' protests voiced no anxiety about sharing facilities with rugby or GAA, nor were they preoccupied with the Maze's place in republican history. Football simply had most to lose from a bad decision, because all international home games were set to be played at the new stadium.
The Northern Ireland fans' lobby, co-ordinated by the Amalgamation of Supporters' Clubs, highlighted, with remarkable acuity, genuine difficulties with the proposed site. A series of papers were produced examining problems with the Maze, related to transport, capacity, design, location and the economy.
Supporters' groups also proved eloquent advocates of alternative proposals, designed to accommodate all three major sports, within walking distance of Belfast city centre. Their view on the transformative potential of urban sites was supported by a survey commissioned from the University of Ulster by Belfast City Council.
And it won unlikely political backing from the SDLP, which belatedly championed a city centre stadium's economic benefits.
Northern Ireland fans, and other proponents of an arena in Belfast, reflected an expert consensus that modern stadia should be sited in city centres rather than out of town. Now that the Maze plans are dead and there will not be a multi-sports stadium, the argument that an out-of-town development would be better than none at all will gain currency.
Yet what if it had been built and opened in the teeth of financial crisis? It's doubtful that the private investment required to fill out the site with amenities would have materialised.
The Aviva is enviable because it combines space-age design with a location in central Dublin. We should admire it and aspire to something similar.
But it certainly doesn't make a drafty, underused Maze Stadium, surrounded by vacant lots, a better idea.


michaelhenry said...

the maze was no aviva for IRISH rugby,
but aviva is no croke park,
you say that aviva becomes IRELANDs
most impressive sports venue,
are you just on about the grass on the feild,
this mini-stadium can not be compared to the qualities of croke park.

Chekov said...

Big isn't everything.

michaelhenry said...

big isn't everything

the lady in my life says different.