THIS is a Reds' flag Ballarat.
Melbourne Renegades have moved to reassure us Ballarat is still a big part of their program and support. But the Reds are not venturing back to Eastern Oval this summer even though we served up their biggest home crowd of the Women's Big Bash League season last November.
Losing a WBBL fixture is disappointing as Cricket Australia moves towards a hub-style competition for a fixture compromised by COVID-19. All regional fixtures have been eliminated.
While it was not entirely unexpected, nor unreasonable as the pandemic plays out, it should signal a warning for Ballarat.
We cannot get complacent with coronavirus.
It is unlikely anything will go back to normal - whatever normal might be - and while we have worked hard on amazing foundations to bring elite sporting matches to Ballarat, there are no guarantees for a return.
Our coronavirus casualty list cost us two AFL premiership season matches at Mars Stadium and we are yet to have honours of an in-season AFLW clash.
It cost us two A-League home games for Western United, which resumes play next week in a Sydney-based hub.
While Melbourne Rebels squeezed in Super Rugby on Mars before the pandemic, it remains unclear whether National Rugby Championship club Melbourne Rising will be back after a Ballarat home game in September last year.
Collingwood and Melbourne Vixens' Super Netball exhibition match was scratched from Ballarat Sports and Events Centre. We wait to see whether national basketball clubs Bendigo Spirit and Melbourne United make their annual pilgrimages to Ballarat.
When we re-set we need to go harder than ever to grapple for matches across all codes to reestablish our game as a major regional sporting hub, not just for Ballarat but for western Victoria.
Cricket Australia's move might be precautionary, given how fast the COVID-19 and sporting landscapes are changing, but we need to make sure we do no drop away when play settles.
There is no denying our priority should be in bringing grassroots sports back for Ballarat. These elite matches are an absolutely integral, and often understated, part in supporting this.
Bringing the nation's best to play in Ballarat reinforces pathways and fuels imaginations and determination not just in sport but everything that comes with this - the coaching, the statisticians, the sports medicine teams, strength and conditioning.
We can see up close athletic heroes really are humans pushing themselves to be the best they can be - inspiration that can apply to anyone.
We get a reminder that we do not have to travel to Melbourne for everything. We have world-class facilities right here in Ballarat shared with players from across western Victoria. At the same time, this puts Ballarat on the map for more than the gold and the cold.
Sport might feel suspended right now, but this is a time to adapt and prepare a big play to bring the best back on our turf. Even if this means aiming for pre-season bouts to get the ball rolling.
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