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Plan for 20,000-seat stadium to temporarily replace Gabba kicks off Queensland funding row

A proposal to upgrade Brisbane’s showgrounds with a temporary 20,000-seat stadium – to act as the city’s home of AFL and cricket while the Gabba is rebuilt – has quickly become a political football.

The Queensland government announced on Friday it would commit $46m to create the temporary stadium but requested the remaining $91m cost be shared between Brisbane city council, AFL and cricket authorities and the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland, which runs the annual Ekka show at the venue.

The Palaszczuk government has committed to a $2.7bn rebuild of the Gabba to make it the centrepiece of the 2032 Olympic Games – but the expected four-year rebuild will leave the Brisbane Lions AFL team and Brisbane Heat T20 cricket franchise temporarily homeless from late 2025.

Various venues have been canvassed as replacements, including the Lions’ boutique stadium in Ipswich and that of their rivals the Suns on the Gold Coast.

While Brisbane’s Liberal National party lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, has lobbied for the showgrounds option as a “no-brainer” to keep teams playing in their home city, on Friday he said the work would not go ahead unless the Labor sport minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, came back to the table with more money.

“It was the state government’s decision to tear down the Gabba so it’s the state government’s responsibility to find the Brisbane Lions and Heat a temporary home,” Schrinner said.

The mayor said the government had previously included relocation costs and the need for a temporary venue in the Gabba rebuild project – and that it was now “quite clear that they’ve undercooked the funding”.

He said the council was “always happy to discuss making a minor contribution” but the project would not go ahead “based on this funding model”.

Hinchliffe said work would need to start next year for the venue to be ready for the 2025-26 cricket season and that Friday’s funding announcement was intended “to get the ball rolling”. “This is the beginning of the negotiation that we need to have,” he said.

Once the AFL and cricket teams could return to the revamped Gabba, the showgrounds’ main arena would be scaled back to a 12,000-seat bowl as an Olympic “legacy” project, the minister said.

The Lions’ chief executive officer, Greg Swann, said he was pleased the process of finding his side a home was “finally moving forward”.

But he described Friday’s announcement as a “starting point”.

Swann said the displacement was a “major upheaval” for the club – and could come at a critical time for the Lions.

After more than a decade in the wilderness, the men’s team have re-established the Gabba as one of the most feared venues in the AFL under their coach, Chris Fagan – winning every game at their home venue last season, though they fell agonisingly short of a drought-breaking premiership.

Many fans feel the temporary pain will be worth it to ultimately access what is being sold as an “amazing 21st century” stadium.

But a lifelong diehard, Roger Grattan, said the affair was bringing back painful memories of the early days of professional Aussie rules in Brisbane when the “Bad News Bears” played out of the Gold Coast.

“It’s nice to get a state-of-the-art stadium,” he said. “But, sadly for the Lions, they are going to become journeymen again.”

The RNA’s chief executive, Brendan Christou, said his organisation would stump up $15m for a project which would restore its existing heritage grandstands and add a temporary grandstand.

But while he said the showgrounds option would build “a great legacy for future generations”, the “funding shortfall” would need “to be resolved before the project could be a workable solution for the Gabba standby facility”.