On the north shore, locals are up in arms over a proposal for a Turramurra oval they claim would benefit soccer players at the expense of everyone else.
Meanwhile, emerging sports are often locked out from playing fields because established codes have first dibs. NSW Ultimate, the peak body for ultimate frisbee, a team-based sport played with a frisbee, has resorted to holding state championships in regional cities such as Dubbo and Bathurst.
Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne said the problem was “definitely getting worse” because there had been more residential development without matching increases in open space.
“We have sporting organisations, recreational groups and general community users vying for our increasingly limited and crowded open space, playing fields and sporting facilities,” Cr Byrne said. “It’s right at the very top of the pressing problems facing local governments across Sydney and the inner west in particular.”
Parkrun Australia chief executive Tim Oberg has experienced this crunch when trying to set up new locations for the free weekly running event. Congestion is such an issue in Sydney that some councils won’t allow Parkrun at all, or require a 7am start instead of 8am.
“You can even see when you look at a map of where Parkrun is in Australia, there’s a noticeable lack in Sydney,” Mr Oberg said.
“We got an event in Centennial Park going six months ago and that took seven years of negotiation to get it up. We’re very grateful we got it going, it’s a great event, but it took a lot of convincing.”
Mr Oberg said Parkrun worked closely with land owners and encouraged participants to stick to the left and share the park.
NSW Ultimate president Caroline Tamas said it was “really frustrating” trying to book playing fields, especially in winter.
“The big sports always have fields booked whether they’re using them or not,” Ms Tamas said. “A couple of times we’ve tried to book fields because the website says they’re free and then another sporting code has been given the nudge to renew.”
Ms Tamas said one inner-Sydney club lost its Monday booking for beginners because the council decided that would be the best night to rest the field, after consulting all the other sporting clubs.
Cr Byrne agreed it was hard for new sports to break in and noted women and girls’ teams from traditionally male-dominated sports often faced the same problem.
He said successive state governments tended to invest in elite sports at the expense of grassroots participation, but councils also needed to step up and retrofit playing fields for more intense usage by multiple sports.
Some upgrades have winners and losers.
In 2017 West Pymble Football Club received a $500,000 grant for artificial turf at Norman Griffiths Oval, adjoining Bicentennial Park. The plan shifted to Mimosa Oval in Turramurra because of drainage issues at the original site.
But Mimosa Oval has no adjoining park apart from bushland and locals use it for cricket and general use such as dog walking and kids riding bikes. The plan is awaiting Ku-ring-gai Council’s environmental assessment.
Meanwhile, a Centennial Parklands spokeswoman said the Moore Park netball courts were included in its $800,000 upgrade of sporting facilities last year.
She said the new surface provided “spring and support” for netballers and basketballers but was not designed for skates and hockey sticks and there was recent damage.
The spokeswoman said the hockey players were offered a tennis court as an alternative and the organisation was happy to “talk further”.The Sun-Herald understands the tennis court would cost $32 an hour, while the netball courts remain free on weekends.
Ted Gross from Sydney Inline Hockey denied any damage to the courts, saying the wheels left superficial marks that disappeared with water.
“I see it as gentrification,” Mr Gross said.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the associate editor of The Sun-Herald and a columnist.