THIS IS shaping up to be bigger than 'the world game' for Ballarat.
Positive ripple effects are still being felt about the region from the Australian women's soccer team, the Matildas, setting up camp in Ballarat as a final stop before the 2016 Rio Olympics.
FIFA, soccer's global governing body, will decide early Friday morning (Ballarat time) on who will host the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup: Australia-New Zealand or Columbia.
There are many 'ifs' but Ballarat's extended soccer community says the possibility for this city to host an international team as a training base would have an incredible impact on the region, particularly in promoting women's sport and Ballarat sporting facilities.
Daylesford and Hepburn United junior coach Zoran Drogriski's MiniRoos played half-time for the Matildas practice hit-out against New Zealand in 2016. The girls, most now entering under-13 competition, often travel to Melbourne together to watch national league matches.
Mr Drogriski said what happened in Ballarat mattered in Daylesford, not just because his team played in Ballarat competition, but because it could inspire the broader region.
"Our club has been growing in numbers...We're now a town with an influx of parents and young people who like the game. We have coaches with Victorian and international experience here," Mr Drogriski said.
"A lot of girls who are 13/14 now will be on the cusp of deciding to take their games to the next level in 2023. Having a team based in Ballarat will make reaching that seem a bit more attainable. My team played half-time (for the Matildas) and now feel a long-standing connection with the Matildas."
Having a team based in Ballarat will make reaching that (level) seem a bit more attainable.Zoran Drogriski, Daylesford and Hepburn United junior girls coach
Ballarat has a strong record in hosting elite sporting teams in basketball, AFL and rugby. Mars Stadium is a home game venue for A-League club Western United.
The city has hosted an international soccer team with Bahrain men's squad based at Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility, Morshead Park, ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup.
City of Ballarat councillor Des Hudson said the Matildas has simply set the bar so high for what was possible when an international team set up camp.
"The game against New Zealand generated the largest crowd for all levels of the game in Ballarat...the Matildas were so giving in their time, the community generously gave back in spades," Cr Hudson said.
"What Bahrain did do, was their comments in terms of our soccer pitch being as good a quality surface as anywhere they would play.
"When you look at St George's Reserve and council's $1.7 million investment for two new pitches and lights and projects in Russell Square, Trekardo Park, Victoria Park and Buninyong, the pitches should be the same quality. That gives us the capability to host multiple teams in town."
Cr Hudson said female soccer player numbers had declined since Total Girl tournaments last filled Ballarat soccer pitches about 10 years ago. AFLW had boomed in this time but Cr Hudson said a World Cup team could attract more girls to soccer.
Ballarat City Football Club football operations director Laura Brady said it was unlikely a foreign soccer team would make the same investment in the community as the Matildas.
Ms Brady, who coached Ballarat's marquee women's team at the time of the Matildas' visit, said the Matildas and then-coach Alen Stajcic viewed regional Australia as an untapped talent and supporter base.
To once more have an international women's team would, Ms Brady said, would benefit Ballarat two-fold: the chance for the region's soccer players to study and share in finer details of how elites approached the game; and, in encouraging how we viewed women in sport.
Exposure to male sport is far higher whether that's in local or national media. Girls do not get as much exposure but this could be a real opportunity for change.Laura Brady, Ballarat City Soccer Club
"Exposure to male sport is far higher whether that's in local or national media. Girls do not get as much exposure but this could be a real opportunity for change," Ms Brady said.
"Women's World Cup in France last year was massive. World Cup Cricket final had the second largest crowd in the world for a women's sporting event.
"...Publicity levels and media levels for women's cricket and footy are bigger than soccer but it is interesting at base numbers there are more women playing soccer.
"(Matilda) Sam Kerr is high profile and really important but if you watch the Matildas, you realise it's not just about a one-player team."
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