This sporting life

29 Apr 2005 by business traveller

By the time the Commonwealth Games opens in Melbourne in March 2006, Australia will have hosted three of the world's largest sporting events in just six years. After all, who could forget the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Rugby World Cup in 2003? If any country deserves high honours in this area, it's Australia. A nation of sporting enthusiasts – and, indeed, legends – Australia embraces sporting events with unequalled passion and dedication.

While other governments have to battle to persuade their citizens of the benefits of hosting major sporting events, Australia's governments, both national and regional, are fully supported by the population in their aggressive and often expensive lobbying and marketing campaigns, and nowhere is that more true than in Melbourne.

"Major events are Melbourne's icon. Our events calendar is our tourism equivalent to the Sydney Opera House or the Great Barrier Reef," says Peter Abraam, CEO of the Victorian Major Events Company, which is responsible for overseeing ticket sales, international visitors, crowd movements, stadium usage, police, and broadcast audiences for city events.

"The public also appreciates the tourism value these events create for Melbourne, and of course public confidence is important," adds Abraam. "It is a point of pride for Melbourne and Victoria to have such a strong events calendar, and people support and enjoy major events in Melbourne in their hundreds of thousands."

Sydney took the glory as the host of the spectacular 2000 Olympics, but Melbourne, Australia's second city, still firmly retains its crown as the nation's sporting capital. Annually playing host to leading international sports events, including the Australian Tennis Open and the Australian Grand Prix, it is the ultimate sporting city with its perfect weather and state-of-the-art facilities – not forgetting the appreciative, enthusiastic crowds.

When the Melbourne Cup, the peak of the Australian horseracing calendar, takes place, Melbourne has a public holiday and the whole country comes to a standstill. Federal Parliament suspends debate, offices organise sweepstakes and bars fill with revellers until well into the small hours.

Australian Rules football legend Harry "Soapy" Vallence once observed that: "Melburnians would eat a football, boiled, fried or stewed – then suck on the lace."

Other cities may have social divisions according to race or religion, but here in multicultural Melbourne the crucial defining factor is which team you support, although it's all done in a friendly, tongue-in-cheek way.
Locals joke that in their city, a mixed marriage is when a Carlton supporter marries a Collingwood follower (and for those who don't know, these are both teams in the Australian Football League).

Melbourne is the first city to have three sporting venues with fully retractable roofs, making the most of its favourable climate. But what makes it unique is that these facilities are right in its heart, just a five-minute stroll from the business district. Even its motor racing track is easily accessible. Enthusiasts can be sipping champagne at the Grand Prix one minute, then back in the city 20 minutes later.

Tickets for events are readily available and are priced to suit all budgets. For the Australian Open they are sold on a first come, first served (excuse the pun) basis. You can even buy tickets online on the day of the game for as little as AU$15 ($12/£6), so many locals turn up after work or go at the last minute on a Saturday afternoon.

It was Melbourne's gold rush from the 1850s onwards that was largely responsible for its impressive sports facilities. The city's first major venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (known as the MCG), was built in 1853. It was far too big for the size of the settlement at that time, but the city had to find something to spend all its money on. It was here that the first cricket test was played between Australia and England in 1877; the first Australian Rules Football match was played here, between Melbourne and Carlton, in the same year.

Although Sydney had notable success with its Olympics, Melbourne didn't do badly with its own hosting in 1956. Those games were, in fact, the first to be held in the southern hemisphere.

Starting on March 15, 2006, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games will run for 12 days, with 72 countries and 4,500 athletes taking part. Around 40,000 international visitors and 50,000 domestic visitors are expected to descend on the city, along with a 3,000-strong media army broadcasting to a worldwide audience of one billion.

Melbourne will be the fourth Australian city to host the Commonwealth Games, after Sydney in 1938, Perth in 1962 and Brisbane in 1982. Australian athlete Cathy Freeman, who lit the flame at the Sydney Olympics, will be the face of the games. The event will open and close with ceremonies at the MCG, which can hold more than 100,000 people. Also the venue of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, the MCG is currently undergoing an AU$400 million ($308m/£165m) development, which is being carried out in stages so that annual events can still take place.

Melbourne understands that it is worth investing in top facilities and a tight infrastructure to host major sporting events, and has the figures to prove it. The Australian Open alone attracts 500,000 people and generates AU$200 million ($154m/£82m) in just two weeks.The Grand Prix brings in AU$131 million ($100m/£54m) over four days, Spring Racing attracts some AU$350 million ($270m/£144m), and the Commonwealth Games is expected to reach AU$2 billion ($1.54 billion/£0.8 billion).

It adds up so that annual events held in the city generate some AU$1 billion each year, which helps support the city's infrastructure, both sporting and non-sporting. It has other benefits as well. In 2004, Melbourne was voted the best city in the world to live in by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the second year running. The population of Melbourne is only 3.4 million people, but with over 20,000 hotel rooms and more than enough first-class restaurants and bars, it's well equipped to deal with the influx of crowds for each event.

You also won't see half empty stadiums. "They love their sport and their theatre – there's never an event where people don't show," says Abraam. "When the broadcasters are there to film the crowd it's vital that they can convey a sense of people enjoying themselves. It's no good if half the stadium is empty. That never happens here. The whole city embraces the event – and that's more important than what happens on the field." ¦

For travel and ticket information about Melbourne's sporting and cultural events, seewww.visitmelbourne.com.
For a copy of The Official Guide to Australia, call 09068 633 235 (from the UK). For more information about Australia, visit Tourism Australia's website atwww.australia.com.

Corporate packages

Sportsworld is one of the official ticket and tour operators for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, alongside other programmes to Australia. It provides
tailor-made trips for corporate guests, sponsors, VIPs or incentives tailored to their individual needs, group sizes, particular sports interests and budgets. Contact
David Gambier on +44 (0)1235 554844,www.sportsworld.co.uk, or email[email protected]. Sportsworld can also assist US-based customers. Alternatively, contact the Melbourne games office direct on +61 3 9676 2438 or visitwww.melbourne2006.com.au.

A sample corporate package

An itinerary for a VIP short-stay trip, focusing on the "icon events" of the opening and closing ceremonies in five-star luxury, might be:

March 14: Arrival in Melbourne followed by welcome dinner at a premier restaurant
March 15: Half-day city sightseeing tour around Melbourne. Guaranteed top category tickets to the opening ceremony of the Games with pre-ceremony drinks and post-ceremony dinner
March 16: One-day excursion to the winelands of the Yarra Valley, home to some of Australia's premier wine producers, exclusive tastings and lunch at a selection of vineyards. Then an evening visit to the swimming finals — one of the most sought-after tickets at any Games, especially in Australia
March 17: Networking opportunities through the Melbourne Commonwealth Games Business Club, followed by a visit to the culmination of the Rugby 7s competition and Gold Medal match. A farewell dinner
March 18: Departure for the airport and return flights to UK or other destinations. Anticipated price, based on economy class flights from the UK, is from approximately £3,595 per person. A similar itinerary will be offered around the closing ceremony on March 26, featuring events such as athletics, basketball and hockey.

Incentive and prizewinner tours

These programmes feature four days in Melbourne on an itinerary including the ceremonies and sightseeing opportunities. Meals will be provided in a selection of Melbourne's great eateries including the world-famous Colonial Tramcar Restaurant and Aboriginal Restaurant where guests can try a "Bush Tucker Challenge". This itinerary will
also include two nights in Sydney, as well as a one-night stopover en route in either Singapore or Bangkok. Anticipated price based on economy class flights from the UK, from
£2,995 per person.

Melbourne sporting events calender 2005-2006

Warrnambool May Race Carnival
Annual Steeplechasing at the seaside town of Warrnambool.
Where: Warrnambool Racing Club
When: May 3–5, 2005

World Cup Aerials at Mt Buller
The world's top aerial skiers twist, flip and soar to amaze the crowds.
Where: Mount Buller, Victoria
When: September 3–4, 2005

Australian Football LeagueFinals Series
From March to September Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams fight it out to make the top eight and qualify for the final series.
Where:Various venues
When: Throughout September 2005

Spring Racing Carnival
For six weeks Victoria comes alive with the world's champion thoroughbreds.
Where: Various venues
When: October and November 2005

Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix
A premier event on the international motorcycle calendar and boasting three World Championship races.
Where: Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit
When: October 15–17

Equitana Asia Pacific
A unique event showcasing the entire world of horses and gathering together horse lovers from Australia and all over the world.
Where: Melbourne Exhibition Centre
When: November 4–7, 2005

Melbourne 3 Boxing Day Test Match
More than 160,000 cricket fans attend the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground to support Australia in the biggest Test Match in the world.
Where: Melbourne
When: December 26–30, 2005

Australian Open
The world's top names in tennis gather for a fortnight at Melbourne Park for the first Grand Slam of the season.
Where: Melbourne
When: January 16-29, 2006

Heineken Classic
A prestigious golf tournament, held at one of the world's most famous golf courses.
Where: Royal Melbourne Golf Club
When: February 2006 (tbc)

2005 Formula 1 Foster's Australian Grand Prix
Melbourne hosts the first round of the FIA World Championship.
Where: Albert Park, Melbourne
When: March 2006 (tbc)

Commonwealth Games 2006
The Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games will see 4,500 athletes from 72 nations compete in 15 sports.
Where: Various venues
When: March 15–26, 2006

Rip Curl Pro
The world's top ranked surf riders carve up the waves on Victoria's surf coast.
Where: Bells Beach
When: March/April 2006 (tbc)

Superbike World Championships
This features high-profile international riders in some of the closest competition of any racing championship.
Where: Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit
When: April 2006 (tbc)

Getting there
London-Melbourne Served by BA and Qantas from Heathrow. Connections available with Asian and Middle Eastern carriers such as SIA, Cathay Pacific, MAS and Emirates. Return fares with Qantas in economy costs
£844 for departure between January 16 and March 31, 2006.

With BA: first class £6,748, business class £3,969, premium economy £1,493, economy from £573.

New York-Melbourne First class varies $22,389 to $13,170; business class varies $16,201 to $9,508; full economy $7,600 to $5,382; 30-day apex $1,459-low season; $1,839-shoulder season; $2,219-high season; recent sale $1,304. No non-stop or direct service. Best daily connection is via Los Angeles offered by American and Qantas. Singapore Air operates daily via Singapore using their non-stop flight from Newark. Emirates offers a daily connection via Dubai and Cathay Pacific offers a single connection via Hong Kong except on Monday and Friday when an extra transit in Adelaide is required.

Los Angeles-Melbourne First class varies $16,028 to $12,941; business class varies $11,746 to $7,922; full economy $9,239 to $4,962; 30-day apex $1,004-low season; $1,384-shoulder season; $1,664-high season. Qantas has a daily non-stop (plus a second on Saturdays). United has a daily direct flight via Sydney. Best daily connection is Auckland.

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