Rugby team losing eviction fight

LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
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What should be played at Taumata park?

Rugby. It's their ground.

Soccer. They've been playing in a swamp.

Don't know, don't care.

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A contentious plan to boot rugby off Eltham's Taumata Park in favour of a flourishing soccer side came a step closer to reality yesterday.

The South Taranaki District Council's policy development committee voted 8-3 to throw its weight behind a Eltham Community Board plan to let the Eltham Associated Football Club use Taumata and Saunders parks.

The council would also investigate the development, funding and ownership options for a "clubroom type" facility on Taumata, while improving lighting at Soldiers Park for the rugby club.

The committee also moved to find a use for Eltham AFC's former pitch at Taylor Park.

The debate over which code gets which ground has stirred up passions in the small town and yesterday Eltham rugby spokesman Rawiri Mako took the council to task about focusing on the other sporting code.

Although both Eltham and Kaponga have two rugby clubs from an administrative perspective, they have combined in recent years to field stronger teams.

"Surely the rugby club should have been the priority in the report," he said.

"If it is adopted in its present form Eltham rugby will be hugely disadvantaged."

Eltham AFC spokesman Mark Mekalick said they play between 40 to 50 games a season.

Councillors Kirsty Bourke, Phil Nixon and Ian Wards demanded further investigation around storage, changing facilities, seating and lighting to ensure the rugby club wasn't left out in the cold.

"The soccer people actually made a comment which I thought was really interesting, they said that for themselves the clubrooms and the grounds were important to their identity as a club," Ms Bourke said.

"Well that comment could equally apply to rugby.

"I think that to adopt these recommendations and to shove rugby to Soldiers Park in its current state is very unfair."

However, councillor Alex Ballantyne said the proposal was the first step in fixing a numbers game that was heavily weighted in Eltham AFC's favour.

Mr Ballantyne said five or 10 rugby games versus 50 in a swamp was "basically a no brainer".

"Soccer will be the ones left out in the cold if nothing happens this year. They will be left playing on a swamp. Dozens of children and their families playing in a wet, horrible place with a car shed as their club rooms."

The Taranaki Daily News could not reach either club for comment on yesterday's decision.

The committee's resolution will be put to a full council meeting.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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