BALLARAT punches above its weight in continually luring world-class athletes to the city.
We host sporting events that are the envy of state capitals around Australia, let alone other regional centres.
Take a look at the unfolding sporting calendar for this summer alone – international cricketers, a Wimbledon doubles champion, Australia’s cycling elite, AFL footballers have each marked our town to either prepare or to enter battle.
The list is impressive, and it keeps growing. These are not one-offs.
Major investments are made and passionate parties piece bids together.
Now Ballarat, it is your turn to help keep them travelling here.
This starts today.
Australian Test fast bowler James Pattinson will play cricket at Eastern Oval in Victorian Premier Cricket Twenty20 matches this morning and again this evening.
Yes, he will only bat under a carefully managed Cricket Australia recovery plan in his comeback from stress fractures in his lower back.
But it is a chance to see Pattinson play and field close-up – in your town.
He will arrive with a string of rising stars – teammates and rivals – and experienced state-level performers.
If anything, this is a chance to kick back and enjoy high-quality cricket without fighting your way through the building Christmas traffic in Melbourne.
This will be the first premier cricket visit to Ballarat in three years and, too often in the past, these visits have been met with lacklustre crowd numbers.
Why should premier cricketers take their game on the road to a country venue that cannot be bothered showing interest?
The first question visiting team representatives, of any supporting code, ask The Courier is what the crowd will be like. Will many rock up?
When the bulk of Ballarat Cricket Association’s top cricketers have today off, it will be an embarrassment if most choose to skip watching even a few overs at Eastern Oval.
Arguably the world’s best bowler, Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan comes to town next weekend.
He headlines a near full-strength Melbourne Renegades team in a pre-season training camp leading into the Big Bash League season.
If Muralitharan does not draw a crowd, Ballarat does not deserve him.
The BCA and City of Ballarat worked hard to bring the Renegades camp here.
They fended off bids from arch-rival regional cities Bendigo and Geelong, the adopted home of Renegades captain Aaron Finch and a city with a strong premier cricket base.
This is a tough process the Ballarat soccer fraternity is working hard on now to become a training base for an Asian Cup team in 2015.
Athletes are performers.
They need fans.
Athletes can bust their guts in training and pull off amazing feats in the field.
But they feed on crowds.
Appreciation is what will keep them coming back.
The roar of the crowd, the dressed-up flag-waving fans, the kid holding a poster brandishing their favourite player’s name – that’s what makes sporting events magical.
This atmosphere is growing in Buninyong. Ballarat has worked hard to build crowd numbers for the Cycling Australia Road National Championships.
Buninyong lays claim one of the notoriously toughest courses in Australia – thanks to the repetitive Mount Buninyong climb – but the nation’s best cyclists can experience crowd fervour likened to the Tour de France, complete with the old Teletubbie lining the course and stereos blaring, at the summit.
The championships are high on the must-poach list for a string of major Australian cities and may not be in Ballarat forever.
Ballarat is the home of Australian cycling – we even hosted the Australian cycling team for its briefing and uniform fitting ahead of the 2012 London Olympics – and ultimately it is up to the people of Ballarat to reinforce this branding.
Make it sacrilege for Cycling Australia to even contemplate taking the championships elsewhere.
These events do not just happen. Ballarat needs to earn them.
And the flow-on effects, sporting and culturally for the city, can be phenomenal.