Albury City Council has been widely slammed after voting not to allow the Melbourne Storm to train at local grounds.
The warm welcome for the Warriors in Tamworth wasn't repeated for the Storm in Albury, with councillors holding an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night and voting five to four against them using any council-managed facilities.
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Unable to train together in Victoria due to government restrictions, the Storm have relocated to NSW border town Albury and intended using Greenfields Park - the home of the local rugby league team.
But deputy mayor Amanda Cohn, who is a local doctor, described allowing the Storm to use council grounds when others could not as a “slap in the face.”
Aware of the growing backlash, Melbourne already had a back-up plan and will use the Albury Sports Ground, which is the home of the local AFL team, and not managed by the council.
A party of 50 players and staff arrived in Albury on Tuesday and will remain until at least Friday, even without the local support.
The plan had NSW government approval but some councillors said it smacked of “double standards” given the restrictions on the general community.
In a spirited online council meeting, it was pointed out by those against the ban motion that trains stopped regularly in Albury from Melbourne, with passengers alighting without any consideration to health risks posed to the community.
Cohn said backing the Storm to use local facilities was “an unacceptable double standard.”
“Many of our residents have made tremendous sacrifices to keep the (COVID-19) rates so low in Albury-Wodonga and we've only had 11 cases,” Cohn said.
“People have lost their jobs ... they're unable to participate in their own community sport, they're unable to attend weddings and funerals and I think it's a slap in the face to people who have been doing the right thing for weeks to allow 50 people from Melbourne to come and use our public facilities.”
However the decision hasn’t gone down well, with the council copping backlash on social media on Tuesday night.
Many Albury locals were among those angry, pointing out that the council may have cost the town some significant tourism opportunities in the future if large sporting clubs are unwilling to go there.
Hope the councillors enjoy their five minutes of fame 🤦— Jake Bourke (@JakeBourke) May 5, 2020
That's all you're there for.
Injecting yourself into any other issue is nothing but an ego-stroking exercise.
Albury ratepayers deserve better. https://t.co/yLSgJLsr8R
Wow.— Catherine Murphy (@CathMurphySport) May 5, 2020
Albury Council voted to prevent Melbourne Storm training at their facilities because of the message it sends to the public.
I don’t know many members of general public who would be willing to go through below procedures to be permitted to do their daily exercise. #NRL https://t.co/BcLtewNdEY
Staying in Albury, just at a better facility run by the Albury Tigers footy club. But council has definitely shot itself in the foot for future events.— Chris Mitchell (@ChrisMitchell15) May 5, 2020
Well, maybe rugby league has failed Albury somewhere along the way in the past. I’m sure there is a get square element to this treatment. https://t.co/5xCWtmOXRf— PhilGould15 (@PhilGould15) May 5, 2020
Councillor Murray King also warned that the Storm would never return to Albury if they were banned from the facilities.
“Those councillors who think the Melbourne Storm will ever come back to Albury have rocks in their head,” he said.
“We are damaging the brand of Albury by this extraordinary meeting.
“The theories from some of the councillors that override the chief medical officer of NSW and all the other experts is just bizarre.”
Melbourne Storm boss hits out
Storm CEO Dave Donaghy also expressed disappointment, insisting his club will have a ghost-like presence in Albury.
“I was involved in a phone hook-up last night so I wasn't particularly shocked but certainly disappointed is probably the best way to sum it up,” Donaghy said when asked on Fox League Live about the council's decision.
“We were aware of some of the challenges that the council was expressing and like any of our plans we made a contingency.
“We've got our hotel set up, we've got the gyms set up and from tomorrow we'll be training at the Albury Tigers ground.”
Donaghy stressed the Storm's plans would effectively separate them from the rest of the community.
“We will largely be ghosts in Albury,” he said.
“We will be at the hotel, we will be shuttled to the gym. The gym actually has a roller door where the minibus, which has a limited amount of people that can fit on it, will be able to drive in.
“Players will alight from the minibus inside the gym.
“They will train in there, the bus will leave and it will come back and then pick the guys up to take them to the field.
“They are all within what's called the clean zones and they are all blocked off from the community.
“It's actually the first time we've gone to a country town and asked the community not to come, not to engage with the team.”