THERE is no coincidence national league sporting clubs keep choosing Ballarat for a hit-out. We should start to be a little concerned if our adopted regulars started to stray.
Women’s National Basketball League and A-League soccer clubs announced this week Ballarat would again host pre-season clashes next month.
They really could go anywhere to give regional Victorians a taste of their game but continue to trek to Ballarat because we have exactly what they need to lay the foundations for their seasons ahead. A large part of this is a credit to our elite facilities and a key factor is our people – we can run a major sporting event well. And we should never take this for granted.
This is bigger than Ballarat. Benefits from such exposure to elite sport extends into western Victoria. Our state league teams and development squads across codes draw in the best talent from as far as Ararat, Horsham, Hamilton and Warrnambool.
But you could argue a similar strength for regions beyond other country cities like Bendigo and Shepparton.
Bendigo Spirit and Melbourne Boomers have made an annual fixture at the Mars Minerdome for four years now in the WNBL pre-season. Each remains invested in developing the game in the region and engaging the Ballarat community.
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Boomber coach Guy Molloy maintains a keen interest in the game in Ballarat, where he coached the Miners and led high-performance programs at the Minerdome.
For Spirit, coach Simon Pritchard has consistently made clear his club is promoting a pathway for regional talent across the state. This match could mark the return of former Rush co-captain Abbey Wehrung in her Spirit debut, having transferred from WNBL rival Canberra Capitals.
While the Minerdome is no longer suited to the demands of modern professional basketball, there is the now real promise of a first-class stadium emerging in the $24 million Ballarat Sports and Events Centre redevelopment and lobbying for further enhancement, such as a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning centre and three-on-three courts.
We already boast a boutique world-class soccer stadium not just frequented by A-League each pre-season, but having been the Matildas final team base before leaving for the 2016 Rio Olympics and a home to the Bahrain men’s team earlier that year for Asian Cup preparations.
Reigning A-League premier Melbourne Victory will return to Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility to fine-tune their title defence – this time against Western Sydney Wanderers. This is massive for the region’s soccer community with player signings and both coaches to be as guest speakers in a special luncheon.
Mars Stadium has been a big focus in Ballarat sport, and for western Victoria, for bringing AFL premiership season games to country fans. AFL has really cemented what Ballarat can offer on a big national sporting stage.
But now it is important to build on this. To host A-League and WNBL once more is an incredible honour and it shows the faith for what can be possible for this city in our sporting arenas.