19 September 2018

Why we are rebuilding Allianz Stadium

SCG Trust Chairman Tony Shepherd sets the record straight on the Allianz Stadium redevelopment

Lord Justice Taylor’s closing remarks at the end of the inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster in the UK are as relevant now as they were then. In delivering his findings into the eventual death of 96 Liverpool fans, he said: “The enemy of safety is complacency”. Lord Taylor’s report, completed in 1990, had massive ramifications for stadium design all around the world, putting the focus firmly on patron safety and comfort for the first time in the history of modern sport.

Sadly, the Sydney Football Stadium was designed in the mid-1980s and opened in 1988, long before the Green Guide which grew from the Taylor report became the global stadium design handbook.

I’ve seen commentary that these safety issues were seized upon by the Trust in a bid to secure funding for a new stadium. That the building is fine as it is and we’re trying it on. It complies with the code under which it was built and we should give it a lick of paint and get on with running it. Let me be absolutely clear. The potential consequences that we’ve been advised of by a series of independent experts are frightening – too frightening to ignore at this stage.

In an emergency, patrons face the very real prospect of serious injury or worse in the rush for the exits. I speak from personal experience in saying that it’s bad enough getting a beer on the concourse when there’s a crowd of 15,000 – it would be absolute mayhem in the event of an emergency evacuation.

We do our best to manage around these problems with extra security, extra staff and strict operational protocols but these are unsustainable stop-gaps … and can’t continue indefinitely.

The lesson from Hillsborough where 96 people were crushed and trampled to death and 766 more injured has been learned in modern stadium design – and it must not be ignored here. The SFS is deficient against every standard measure or discipline in the Green Guide when it comes to fire and life safety measures, including:

  • No fire sprinklers;
  • Emergency exit door numbers and accessibility;
  • Internal and external concourse width;
  • Aisle and stairway width;
  • Safe exits and zones for wheelchair users; and
  • Balustrade heights and materials.

The other misconception is that this is some sort of maintenance issue and the Trust should have spent more money fixing up the SFS. Demonstrably wrong. The Trust has spent more than $80m from its own funds in maintaining the stadium, well above industry standards.

In a large part, these are your funds, your annual subscriptions ploughed back into what is a public facility. The SFS is not a private members club. In 30 years of events of all kinds, more than 17 million general admission ticket holders have been through the gates compared to a little over three million in the members reserve.

It is you the members through your subscriptions which make this possible. The problem with the SFS is not maintenance, although the rising cost of maintenance is an issue. The core problem is the fundamental design which cannot be fixed other than by a knock down and rebuild.

Even the external concourses are too narrow, particularly at the northern end of the stadium closest to Moore Park Road. You could lose $1b in refurbishing the current structure and not be able to make one jot of difference to the dangerous choke points.

For all the regular complaints about queues, spectator experience, lack of women’s toilets, playing facilities and appalling provision for the impaired, the fundamental problem remains safety.

The Trust will never be complacent when it comes to protecting our members, patrons, players, officials and staff.

Tony Shepherd is the Chairman of the SCG Trust and an Australian businessman. In 2012, he was awarded an AO for services to business, infrastructure development, the arts and sport.