MELBOURNE has developed a reputation for being the sporting capital of the Southern Hemisphere.
Having endured some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world, the multicultural Australian city is now open and ready for business – and is set to host plenty of top-class sport in the coming years.
SunSport spoke to Visit Victoria CEO Brendan McClements about the future sporting landscape in the State of Victoria.
Another Australian Open will draw to a close this weekend as Melbourne Park welcomed back fans without any Covid stipulations.
The men’s and women’s tennis calendars start Down Under in late December and this runs throughout January.
Talk to the leading players and despite the distances they have to travel, they love going there for Grand Slam action.
There has often been speculation that the event could be taken away and held in a rich country in the Far East or Middle East but chiefs in Australia are confident, not complacent, that that will not happen.
McClements, who has worked in sports administration in cricket and basketball, said: “Every year, in some shape or form, there is a country who has unlimited wealth and real ambitions about building its global presence around major events.
“We have seen this with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai or Qatar. Yet Victoria has had the capacity to understand the competitive landscape.
“Melbourne has a history in tennis, there is a cultural significant here. You can have great confidence in the support of the crowd attending each year.”
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Already there are 16-hour direct flights between London and Perth and a direct route to Melbourne from the UK is being planned within the next decade.
The Women’s football World Cup will be staged in nine cities across Australia and New Zealand between July 20 and August 20.
The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium will host six matches in the 32-nation tournament.
The Lionesses, led by captain Leah Williamson, won the Euro 2022 finals last summer and then beat the United States, the two-time reigning World Cup champions, 2-1 in a Wembley friendly last October.
Last month the derby between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City was marred by an ugly pitch invasion, which saw City goalkeeper Tom Glover hit in the head with a bucket thrown by a fan.
Yet McClements says fans travelling to Oz should have no concerns over fan violence, saying: “It was a one-off and the governing bodies moved very quickly and seriously to address it. They were on top of it.
“There should be no concerns whatsoever. The sport has taken it seriously and put severe restrictions in place. I don’t think we will be seeing that again.”
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, which can hold more than 100,000 people, is one of the most iconic sporting locations on the planet.
It’s Boxing Day cricket Tests represent “one of the greatest sporting days in Australia” says McClements.
This Christmas, it is Australia versus Pakistan, which will be ideal TV viewing for those in the UK who cannot move too far from the sofa after stuffing all that turkey.
In 2025, England will be there for the Ashes and the Aussies cannot wait to see if the electric combination of captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum are still in charge.
Memories will be fresh of Stokes’s astonishing knock as England won the ICC men’s T20 World Cup at the MCG last November.
McClements said: “We are all interested to see if ‘Baz-ball’ survives until then as the game keeps evolving and changing
“Especially as sometimes English cricket has a way of eating its own. But we are all excited by the Ashes this summer in the UK and when it comes back to Australia again.”
The Australian Grand Prix returns to the Albert Park street circuit on Sunday April 2.
After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the global pandemic, it was staged last year and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the chequered flag.
More than 423,000 people attended over four days – these were record figures for the event – and McClements said: “That was a significant moment – we are a sports-loving State.
“We project ourselves to the world through our sport. The return of the Grand Prix was a great celebration.
“New South Wales were very public about its pursuit of F1. Their minister and bidding group surreptitiously flew to England to try and lock that away.
“But Melbourne delivers everything the F1 fans want to see. It’s very well-run, the drivers love coming here. Our contract runs through until 2037.”
Eddie Jones is back in town, having taken over the running of the Australian rugby union team for the second time.
No sooner had he been sacked by England for a poor run of results that the Wallabies hierarchy swooped in and signed him up.
Though he will be based in Sydney, Jones will make regular trips to Victoria to watch the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby competition at the AAMI Park.
There is a high probability England and Australia could meet in the knockout stages of the World Cup finals in France later this year — and Jones could well get his revenge over RFU chiefs.
Birmingham held a successful Commonwealth Games in July and August.
The landscape and concept of the entire Commonwealth may end up changing or evolving following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne.
The State of Victoria will host the Games in March 2026 with the regions of Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland, Melbourne and Shepparton hosting events.
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McClements said: “The next Commonwealths will allow us to showcase parts of Victoria that have an incredible sporting infrastructure and culture. We can deliver a Games that will unite people.”
For more information please go to www.visitvictoria.com
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