Major sport is the domain of television these days. But nothing beats being at the ground, watching your team, enjoying the atmosphere. If you live in the big smoke, it’s a routine thing to have a day at the cricket, and you can probably fit more than one AFL or NRL game into your weekend. In regional Australia, we have great local sport to see, but a chance to see top level cricket or footy is a rare treat not to be missed.
Here in Cairns, far north Queensland, we’ve just had our annual dose of AFL and NRL. South Sydney beat the Gold Coast Titans at Barlow Park a few weeks back, and on Saturday night, Richmond broke its Cazaly’s hoodoo and beat the Gold Coast Suns.
It’s fair to say neither was a particularly attractive fixture, but both attracted near capacity crowds – 16,000 plus to the NRL and just over 11,000 to the AFL. We FNQ folk love our sport, and we have one of the nation’s highest rates of active participation in it. But opportunities to watch top level sport live in Cairns are few and far between. That’s why we turn out for these games, and that’s why we hope there will be more.
A few years back, Cricket Australia saw the potential of mid-winter cricket, putting international matches on in Cairns and Darwin. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh played Tests and one day matches here, in what was billed as the Top End Tours. Cricket lovers came from all over, making the long drive from the top of Cape York or the Gulf country. Many who came had never been to a Test match before – it was a big deal for us. I don’t think Cricket Australia made any money on the two series and the idea quietly faded away.
Apart from giving a treat to local sports fans, these big fixtures attract visitors from down south & bring significant money into the local economy. Given the state of that economy, people believe the sport dollar is worth pursuing, even if it means we have to spend a bit on upgrading our venues.
Saturday night’s AFL match was the last of three games played here under a deal signed with Richmond in 2010. Back then, the club was in debt and membership was down – they’re in much better shape now and the trip to Cairns is thus a less attractive financial proposition. The AFL is known to be keen on Cairns as a venue and hopes to get one of the Melbourne-based clubs to come up here in future, probably playing one of the Queensland sides.
For the rugby league, South Sydney will be back in Cairns next year, and on their current form, they may well return as defending NRL champions. I know many Rabbitohs fans (I am one myself) who have already booked their tickets for next year’s Rumble On The Reef.
I hope the AFL finds a way to put a game on here next year, and Cricket Australia – hey! We’re still here! Come back any time. Now what about the Socceroos, the Wallabies? Not being greedy, you understand. Just keen.