There’s an overwhelming sense of history that strikes me when I walk through the gates of the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’m not a cricket tragic, at least not in the “John Howard” sense of the word, but there’s no doubt that the ground is special.
Talk to any international cricketer and it’s one of their favourite places to play. Whether it’s on the hallowed turf where the best of them all, the great Sir Donald Bradman, wielded the willow or within the heritage areas of the Members and Ladies Stands, it’s easy to understand why, when it comes to sport in Australia, the SCG holds pride of place.
Of course the SCG is not just the domain of world class cricket. Up until the late eighties, it was also the spiritual home of rugby league. Some of the most brutal games in the code’s history have been fought there, including the 1963 grand final, famous for “the Gladiators” image, immortalising a muddied Norm Provan and Arthur Summons.
But it’s for a whole other reason that the SCG will make history this week when a bat of a different kind will be swung – and it will be home runs rather than sixes. This year’s Major League Baseball Open Series begins in Sydney. It’s only the sixth time in history that such an event is being held outside the United States. The star studded Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks will do battle this Saturday and Sunday.
I must confess, in what some would call a crime, I recently took a shovel to the hallowed turf to help the astounding transformation along. Two hundred and fifty tonnes of special San Diego clay has been laid to create the infield and dugouts, and dressing rooms have been customised to within an inch of their lives. The interest in the fixture has been breathtaking. Tickets to both games are almost all gone. While I’m not yet convinced that I’ll graze on some of the quintessentially American deep fried culinary delights on offer, I’ll be there too with my baseball cap firmly on.
These games will showcase NSW to a worldwide tourism audience. Once again, it puts Sydney and our state on the international sporting map for all the right reasons. It’s estimated nearly 170 million households in key tourism markets, across Asia and North America will watch the games on TV. Many “no vacancy” signs at hotels, big and small, have gone up across the city with an estimated 10 thousand international and interstate visitor nights expected in Sydney. The matches will deliver north of $13 million in direct visitor benefit to the NSW economy.
It’s not only the Sydney Cricket Ground and baseball on display this weekend. This is another golden opportunity for us to showcase Sydney and NSW to the world, like we did during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The O’Farrell Government has an unwavering commitment to ensuring Sydney is Australia’s true global city.
The decision to bring the games to Australia also highlights the growth of baseball domestically. The MLB is committed to developing the game in Australia and they are taking a long-term view of investing in the grassroots and at the elite level through its ownership of the ABL. Bringing this event to Sydney is their metaphorical “home run”. But more importantly, for NSW it cements Sydney’s reputation as Australia’s major events capital. Bringing any international sporting event to a capital city market has to make sense commercially and in this case, it was a complete no brainer.
There’s no doubt that NSW is the engine room of the Australian economy. The fact that Major League Baseball is coming to Australia has a natural flow on effect. It further strengthens relationships between Australia and the U.S. It also gets us talking about other opportunities, whether they are sport events, economic or trade deals, cultural programs, education grants or scientific research. Through sport, and in this case, watching the swing of a bat while enjoying a foot long hot dog, we can achieve so much more.
When I toured the Sydney Cricket Ground ballpark earlier this week, I was not only impressed with the transformation, but also the centrefield wall, some 122 metres away from home plate. In every sense of the word, it’s a big hit. I think the bigger hit is what we’ve managed to achieve in bringing this event to Sydney and NSW. In my view, we’ve literally knocked this one “out of the park”.
The Hon. Gabrielle Upton is the Member for Vaucluse and was appointed as New South Wales Minister for Sport and Recreation in 2013. She has a background in banking and financial law, and is a former board member of Neuroscience Research Australia.
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