The Warrnambool and District Hockey Association is throwing its hat in the ring to host a visiting nation in the lead-up to the 2026 Commonwealth Games which is expected to be hosted by Victoria.
After Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on February 16 that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) was dealing exclusively with the state on negotiations and the announcement it would be a regional-led event, association president Paul Dillon said Warrnambool was well-placed to play a major part.
"There's a dozen nations that compete in men's and women's hockey at the games and our thinking is that we've got the Great South Coast and it could be really appealing for one of those countries to base themselves in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Games in Warrnambool," he told The Standard.
"If we're realistic those teams would come here for one reason and that's to prepare, but I think it's basically a tourism project and marketing the Great Ocean Road and the south-west as a combination of a tourism destination and competing at the Commonwealth Games.
"They can base themselves here in an amazing location in Warrnambool, have exclusive use of one of the best facilities in Victoria and it's only a few hours drive up to Bendigo or the State Hockey Centre for matches."
A multi-million dollar upgrade of the Warrnambool hockey complex is in the Warrnambool City Council's capital works program, with the association confident it will be passed in the 2022/2023 budget in the coming months.
The works are expected to be completed ahead of the 2023 winter season.
Dillon said the new pitch would be an attractive addition for a visiting nation in 2026, with the mixture of lifestyle, climate and elite facilities making it ideal for preparation.
"We would have one of the newest pitches in Victoria just a few years out from the Commonwealth Games," he said.
"Our pitch probably won't be international standard, it'll be just below it, unless we can turn the tables and get people excited about getting an international standard pitch, you could then potentially host a game here in the games.
"But realistically we have to crawl before we can walk, but based on the budget we'll be one level down.
"It's very satisfactory for a nation because if you've got 12 countries in Melbourne trying to get access to suburban facilities, they'll be older than our pitch.
"We want to market to a nation and we'd love to get a male and female team here that have qualified and they can base here. It's almost like a landing pad.
"We want to work with stakeholders locally, it's about the region and being a tourism destination. We feel sports can really work together too to market the south-west as a destination for these nations."
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The new pitch would also have long-term benefits for the local game, according to the new association president.
"It'll mean we can attract a higher standard of matches, from Melbourne and elsewhere to Warrnambool because the pitch will be new and essentially when the councillors sign off the budget that's included and has been in the capital works for the last few years we'll get work started," he said.
"That could happen as quick as this summer, so touch wood it's approved in May or June and we can get the materials to get the job done quite quickly and launch into 2023 on a new pitch.
"We'll then immediately look at the clubrooms and create a spectacular viewing facility, a double-storey building that can cater for all year."
Dillon said boosting participation, such as with the Great South Coast Hockey Challenge that will see teams from Warrnambool, Portland, Mount Gambier, Hamilton and Corangamite play in a pre-season tournament across three weekends in March, was crucial for the sport moving forward not only for their Commonwealth Games, but for the sustainability of the sport in the region.
Ultimately, the long-term vision is to create a 'south-west hockey hub' aimed to increase participation by 50 per cent by 2025.
"Hockey is an Olympic sport, we've won gold medals in men's and women's and people can play it from the ages of eight to 88, it's an extremely versatile sport," Dillon said.
"Particularly with the climate here we can play all year round, so from the hub aspect, now that we've got Corangamite and Portland within Warrnambool's orbit we want to re-brand hockey in the region to be south-west rather than Warrnambool and be more inclusive.
"There's a real regional focus on working together to grow the sport, on a more hyper local sense we're the only one with a synthetic pitch, you have to go to Hamilton, Mount Gambier, Ballarat or Geelong, so we're really the only artificial pitch that's in the council's budget to be replaced."
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