MELBOURNE Renegades' declaration its women's team would return to action in Ballarat was fittingly made in steady rain on Wednesday morning.
We turned out a strong crowd of more than 2,200 fans for the Renegades' last in-season visit to Eastern Oval, despite storms. They know there is an appetite for Women's Big Bash League here in Ballarat - we should be proud about this as a city.
We proudly promote Ballarat as a sporting city and have the record to back this up with the likes of Australian headline teams the Matildas and the Opals plus the Bahrain national soccer team setting up camp here. We now boast AFL premiership season games and pre-season hit-outs for A-League, AFLW, National Basketball League and Women's National Basketball League.
But this is bigger than sport.
We show we are prepared to embrace a fast-growing female sport en masse.
Ballarat deputy mayor Jim Rinaldi said high-profile events, like WBBL, play an important role in supporting gender equity, re-shaping stereotypes and empowering women and girls to take up sport.
We're seeing more and more young females taking up cricket, so the return of WBBL is another positive step forward for our city.Jim Rinaldi, Ballarat deputy mayor
The Renegades will face cross-town rival Melbourne Stars at Eastern Oval, which is the best cricket oval in the region and most notably known for packing in 12,000 fans for an England-Sri Lanka World Cup bout in 1992.
This match is a big deal and one we should not take for granted.
WBBL is going standalone from the men's competition next season to promote the women's game in its own right, billed as family-friendly fixtures at boutique venues.
International acts and emerging stars, including Renegades' western district product Georgia Wareham, will be showcasing their cricket skills that would make our top grassroots players think twice about facing. This WBBL season also shapes as key to selections for the ICC Twenty20 Women's World Cup in Australia early next year.
Our turnout in the rain in part says we are here for the cricket and this is an important step towards gender equality. This goes a big way to promoting respect for women, on and off the field, without necessarily having to overtly spruik this as such.
This is not to dismiss Ballarat wanting to have men's Big Bash League matches in town because by all means we do and will continue to lobbying in this space.
WBBL is growing, as is female participation in grassroots cricket.
Ballarat boasts a strong girls' competition and has long had pathways programs in the Central Highlands region. East Ballarat export Emma Lynch went on a tour of Sri Lanka with Cricket Victoria's high performance squad in April.
Social women's cricket was also introduced via Sport Central's This Girl Can programs last summer, getting more females back into the game they loved or may never have previously had the chance to play.
A team like Renegades' WBBL playing in Ballarat reinforces and inspires what can be possible.
This goes for any elite sport coming to town, but particularly for women's sport amid a climate encouraging women to give any sport a go without fear of judgement and discrimination - to feel they can move.
National excitement about Ash Barty's French Open win and high-profile concerns about the Matildas' World Cup soccer hopes this week show the sporting landscape is gradually changing. This is a great time to, as the Renegades say, "Get on Red".
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