MARS Stadium's pristine surface has emerged as the key factor in the AFL awarding Ballarat an extra game this weekend when it plays host to the GWS Giants versus Gold Coast match on Sunday afternoon.
As Sydney's COVID lockdown continues to play havoc with the fixture, Ballarat has emerged as the saviour for the contest which pits two big winners of round 16 up against each other.
City of Ballarat chief executive Evan King said Ballarat had opened its doors to the AFL and was ready to host as many games as it could.
"We're here to help out, we're here to ensure that the AFL can be experienced by everyone in regional Victoria," he said.
"We really encourage everyone to come to Ballarat to experience Mars Stadium and what Ballarat has to offer.
"We understand that fixturing is a complex process with broadcasting, teams travelling and all those types of things, but the offer is to be able to host this and future games and we'll continue talks with the AFL around that."
King said there had been numerous messages back and forward in the last week as the city positioned itself for the game.
And Looking ahead, there are two matches in the next round that Ballarat could be an outside chance to host with the Sydney derby between the Giants and the Swans and the Gold Coast home match against the Western Bulldogs. Mars Stadium is already fixtured to host the Bulldogs versus Adelaide in round 19.
King said the council was budgeting right now for a 50 per cent capacity based on current restriction levels - or 5500 people, but was keen to see capacity raised to around 75 per cent, which would allow for up to 8000.
"Every Wednesday and Thursday we await the announcements from the chief health officer," he said.
"It's important we follow those guidelines to keep our community safe, but if those guidelines change, we would welcome a greater capacity here."
The Giants will visit Ballarat for the first time, while the Suns played the Western Bulldogs in 2018.
Giants chief executive David Matthews said the club was excited to head to the venue for the first time.
"We're delighted to be taking an AFL game to a regional part of Australia that rarely gets to host this kind of event," he said.
"This arrangement will see both teams remain in Victoria having played in Melbourne during round 16 and minimise travel during the current spike in COVID cases across the country," Matthews said.
"On behalf of the Giants and Suns, I'd like to thank the AFL and the Ballarat community for being so accommodating during this unique period and I know both clubs are looking forward to putting on a great game for the people of the local region."
Matthews said the Giants had explored options about possibly moving the game to Canberra and at this stage the club hopes to return home for the round 18 clash with the Swans, or potentially play in the nation's capital if it is able to.
Mr King said the game, which will be shown Australia wide will give great visibility to Ballarat and he hoped to showcase the city, and its winter festival to people who may not have visited before.
"Hopefully with travel restrictions easing, it encourages people to come and see everything that we love about Ballarat," he said.
"A combination of school holidays, Winter Wonderlights, the ice skating, the town will be alive all weekend."
Giants club members can purchase tickets from 10am Wednesday, Suns at 12pm and general public from 2pm.
The AFL match means junior football planned for Mars Stadium this weekend has been moved. Lake Wendouree versus Ballarat Swans is at Alfredton Recreation Reserve No. 2 while North Ballarat versus Bacchus Marsh is at Marty Busch Reserve in Sebastopol.
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