Olympian’s altitude training centre dream for the Northern Territory
The cover of a glossy media release spruiking the Alice Springs training centre idea. (Supplied)
Four-time Olympian Phil Smyth has outlined an ambitious, un-costed idea to create a new “high-altitude” athletics centre in the heart of the Territory outback.
- Taxpayer money budgeted for the sidelined Indigenous art gallery could be used to fund the training centre, Mr Smyth said
- Alice Springs town councillor Eli Melky has backed the proposal to be undertaken in the Anzac Oval precinct
- Mr Smyth said he believed this project would receive the support from traditional owners that was lacking with the gallery plan
The centre is proposed for the same location where a National Indigenous Art Gallery plan was recently scrapped, said controversial Alice Springs town councillor and former Palmer United Party NT branch president Eli Melky, who has backed the idea.
Mr Smyth, an Adelaide-based ex-basketball player who represented Australia at the Olympics in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992, has released his vision for the proposed “Alice Springs High Altitude Training Centre”.
He said the centre could be used to reel in national, international and NT-based athletes to train in hot and “high-altitude” conditions.
“The initial concept is to build a high-performance centre where the athletes can come in and train within high altitude, or if they want to use the heat, or they can use both,” Mr Smyth told the ABC.
“So you’d need to build a facility that’s sustainable for that.”
He said the centre could rival altitude training centres in Utah and Arizona in the US.
“I’ve spoken to a heap of athletes over the last fortnight, and coaches, none of them knew that Alice Springs was high altitude,” Mr Smyth said.
Decorated ex-basketball player Phil Smyth wants to see a new athletics centre built in NT. (ABC News)
A glossy media release outlining the vision for the centre states “it has been long established and accepted that high-altitude training leads to fitness gains”.
Sports psychologist Randall L Wilber told the BBC in 2011 that a study of 48 runners found “to effectively acclimatise and achieve an increase in red blood cell volume significant enough to enhance post-altitude endurance performance, they needed to live at an altitude of 2,000 to 2,500 metres”.
Alice Springs sits at an elevation of about 550 metres, compared to Melbourne city, which sits at 31 metres, and Adelaide at 50 metres.
Gallery budget could get project started: Smyth
Mr Smyth said he hoped to rally both the Federal and NT governments to cough up the money needed to fund the training centre plan, and the $50 million budget being held to pay for a National Indigenous Art Gallery could be used.
“Look you’d suspect the Federal Government would put some money in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory Government would put some money in,” he said.
“They’ve got $50 million sitting there at the moment for an art and cultural centre that doesn’t seem to be happening — perhaps some of that money could transfer over in the short term to get it started to get people into Alice Springs.”
Earlier this year, Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed the gallery project had lost support of “key traditional owners” and its future was under consideration.
Mr Smyth said he did not believe gaining the unanimous support for the plan from Alice Springs traditional owners would be a problem, as it has been for the National Indigenous Art Gallery.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“The one great thing about sport — and the elders that I’ve spoken to, be they in Darwin or Alice Springs — they all love sport, and they see sport as the hook to get people in.”
Town councillor backs plan
The plan is being pushed by Mr Melky, who actively campaigned against the National Indigenous Art Gallery being built on Anzac Oval in the centre of Alice Springs.
As well as vocally opposing the plan and the Labor Government’s process of consulting over it, Mr Melky also consulted with traditional owners prior to their decision to veto the gallery plans and presented their signed declaration disendorsing the project to the town’s council.
Eli Melky, right, with two of the traditional owners who vetoed support for the gallery plan. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)
Despite his longstanding opposition to the Anzac precinct being used to house the gallery, he said it could be used to house this high-performance centre.
“In terms of the gallery, that to me has been resolved,” Mr Melky said.
“The sport ovals including Anzac Oval make perfect sense. Because you’ve got the [disused] school behind it … the school could be converted into an administration centre.”
Plan not floated with Alice Springs council
When asked why he would support this project but not the gallery at the Anzac precinct, and if he had any agenda for supporting one but not the other, Mr Melky said “this is not about the oval”.
“We would use it exactly as it is for a sporting field … you would need some office space and you would need some administration space, and it sounds like the Anzac High School could be, if it’s not used for anything else, why let it go to waste, why not put an administration centre there.”
Mr Melky, who recently announced he was setting up the NT chapter of minor party, the Australian Country Party, said he had not floated the idea with his fellow Alice Springs town councillors.
“This is purely a citizen Melky [proposal],” he said.
Minister won’t look at reallocating gallery funding
Tourism, Sport and Culture Minister Lauren Moss said Mr Smyth had previously presented a number of proposals to the NT government.
“Government is always happy to talk to him about his ideas,” Ms Moss said.
“We are investing $6.2 million in sporting infrastructure upgrades in Alice Springs based on priorities identified through consultation with the community, including $540,000 for upgrades to the basketball stadium.
“We are also investing $2 million into motorsports facility upgrades in Alice Springs and $2.7 million into remote sporting infrastructure in Central Australia.
“The National Aboriginal Art Gallery is an important cultural, social and economic investment in Alice Springs, and the Northern Territory Government is not looking to reallocate any funding set aside for this project.”