‘‘The red and the white have faded a little bit in the Illawarra.’’
Those are the words of Kiama MP Gareth Ward but they reflect the feelings of a range of the region’s elected representatives towards the Dragons this week.
On Monday, Dragons chief executive Peter Doust confirmed that the number of Wollongong home games for the Dragons would be slashed from six to four as part of a new four-year deal.
‘‘I know he’s looking at his bottom line, and that’s fair,’’ Mr Ward said.
‘‘But it’s more than just bottom line for people in this region. It’s a sport that people love and enjoy. Part of the essence and flavour of the Illawarra is football.’’
Mr Ward said the news was also bad for hotels and businesses near the stadium.
Noreen Hay’s Wollongong electorate includes WIN Stadium and she bemoaned the club’s lack of loyalty.
‘‘I think that loyalty is a two-way street,’’ Ms Hay said.
‘‘The fans and supporters have been absolutely loyal and this kind of lack of loyalty in return is just not acceptable in my view.’’
She also hit out at the club over the recent revamping of WIN Stadium, which she said was done with the Dragons in mind.
‘‘I’m extremely concerned about the decision, having been involved in obtaining over $30 million for the upgrade of the western grandstand to provide the facilities that the Illawarra Dragons said they would need to continue playing their games,’’ she said.
This could be the start of a long-term withdrawal from the region by the Dragons, Ms Hay said.
Keira MP Ryan Park was also unimpressed with the Dragons’ decision, given the amount of public money spent on WIN Stadium.
‘‘I think it’s unbelievable that in this day and age we have gone as a government and as a community and invested a significant amount into an asset to allow the Dragons to continue to play a fair share of games there,’’ Mr Park said.
‘‘A year or two after they turn around and say ‘we’re moving off somewhere else’.
‘‘I don’t think that’s good enough, I certainly don’t think it’s good enough for a regional community to have to cop this.’’
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the news had led him to call the WIN Stadium ‘‘stakeholders’’ to a meeting next Tuesday about its future.
‘‘I think we need to get our head around the fact that not only are we losing a few games from the Dragons but also we’ve got a stadium there that’s under-utilised, it’s one of the most expensive bits of grass in the city,’’ Cr Bradbery said.
‘‘It’s a great facility that I’m frightened will turn into a white elephant if we don’t get our head around another business model, not only for the stadium but it’s also connected to the WEC.’’
Minister for the Illawarra and Dragons fan John Ajaka said he was disappointed to hear about the reduction in games for WIN Stadium.
He said he had spoken to Mr Doust on Tuesday about the issue.
‘‘He has assured me the club’s commitment to investment in the Illawarra region,’’ Mr Ajaka said.
‘‘This included the investment in junior rugby league and other community programs.
‘‘It is important to remember that the Dragons club is a business and has the right to choose and adopt their business model to ensure financial security.’’
NSW Sport Minister Gabrielle Upton said the NSW government was committed to supporting the Wollongong stadium.
‘‘I want to be clear that the NSW government’s stadia strategy commits to ongoing support for WIN Stadium,’’ she said.
‘‘The strategy specifically recognises the need to provide future NSW government investment in two medium-sized regional venues – one in Newcastle and the other in Wollongong.
‘‘WIN Stadium at Wollongong has always been part of the NSW stadia strategy and nothing has changed.’’
The Dragons did not respond to the Illawarra Mercury’s questions by Tuesday night’s deadline.