General Schifcofske, Kangaroos give capital the boot

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Canberra sport was dumped twice yesterday.
Eyes welling with tears, Canberra Raiders captain Clinton Schifcofske nervously fiddled with his wedding ring and ended a six-year commitment.

Schifcofske announced he would not complete the remaining two years of his contract with the Raiders, instead signing a two-year deal with the Queensland Reds in the Super 14 rugby union competition.

Later in the day, AFL club the Kangaroos confirmed it would shift its package of "home games" from Canberra to the Gold Coast, also ending a six-year relationship with Canberra.

After such a bitter day, a sweetener may come today when AFL administrators arrive in Canberra to discuss the potential of maintaining three competition games and a pre-season match at Manuka Oval next year - two possibly involving the Sydney Swans.

Canberra could use some good news - the city's sporting self-esteem is at an all-time low.

The Comets were axed from the national one-day cricket competition after the summer of 1999-2000, national soccer team the Cosmos dissolved in 2001, and basketball team the Cannons followed in 2003.

The Raiders have not guaranteed their future in Canberra beyond 2009, while the Brumbies' management continues to fend off rumours they could shift to Melbourne at the end of the decade.

Individually, local rugby junior Matt Giteau will move from the Brumbies to the Western Force next year and basketballer Lauren Jackson has left the Capitals, to split her year between America's WNBA and South Korea.

What can other sporting markets offer that Canberra cannot?

In Schifcofske's case, it was the challenge of playing a new rugby code, the potential to lengthen his career in union and the opportunity to return to family in Queensland.

Schifcofske broke the news to media yesterday afternoon, before he had told teammates. He later gathered the players in a huddle on the training field.

"People talk about sport being a business and it probably is but I think when you leave your teammates, it's a bit more than a business," Schifcofske said. "That's going to be the toughest thing and I just wish them all the best."

Schifcofske, 30, is the highest paid Raiders player, on $340,000 a season. The club had sought post-football employment for him this week as an extra incentive to stay in Canberra.

But he has acted on an escape clause in his Raiders contract - due to the departure of coach Matt Elliott at the end of the season.

He will become a goal-kicking winger with the Queensland Reds under former Brumbies and Australian coach Eddie Jones.

Ironically, Schifcofske is one of the the faces of the ACT Government's Live in Canberra campaign, a scheme aimed at attracting skilled workers to the national capital.

He was at the launch with Chief Minister Jon Stanhope on April 3 and a photo of his family will appear on promotional material to be handed out at next month's Country Week Expo in Sydney. His testimony describes Canberra as "a beautiful city and I think people often take that for granted".

Mr Stanhope said yesterday he didn't see a problem, insisting Schifcofske would remain "an ambassador for the virtues of Canberra".

Schifcofske said he was committed to finishing this season with the Raiders on a high note.

"I've been here for six years and given my heart and soul and that will be no different [until the end of the season]," Schifcofske said.

The Kangaroos will play their last "home" game at Manuka Oval against Geelong on July 30.

The Roos board voted unanimously yesterday to shift a package of games from Canberra to the Gold Coast on a deal funded by the AFL. Kangaroos chairman Graham Duff said the club would be a minimum of $1 million better off over the next three years under its Gold Coast arrangement than in Canberra. There were also enormous possibilities to increase the club's supporter base on the Gold Coast.

ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr said he was confident the AFL would maintain a presence in Canberra, with the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Demons to be involved in talks about playing home games at Manuka. "[Today] the ACT Government will seek assurances from the AFL that we will continue to host three premiership games in 2007," he said.
 

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