Wollongong 2022 chief executive Stu Taggart had his first COVID-19 vaccination shot this week as part of his preparation for the UCI World Road Championships. He also answered our questions about preparations in lockdown this week.
Question: What is it like to organise an international cycling event in the middle of a global pandemic?
Answer: We've made really great progress to date and we're on schedule in terms of getting our event delivery team in place and primary circuit designs for the eight days of competition.
There continues to be overwhelmingly positive support from our key event partners - the UCI, NSW Government and Wollongong City Council.
The pandemic hadn't impacted us directly as much until the current lockdown.
Our meetings have all moved online and understandably some of our major partners have had to divert resources temporarily to deal with the most pressing public health issues facing us right now.
Question: Does the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix being cancelled and concerns about the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne next year concern you? Or are you confident Australia will be well vaccinated and on top of the pandemic by September 2022?
Answer: While we feel for our industry peers who have had events cancelled in recent weeks, we expect Australia to be well on top of things by this time next year, and with our current vaccination rates we should be operating much more like Europe in recent weeks through the Tour de France, Wimbledon and Euro 2020.
We are nonetheless making appropriate contingency plans for a range of potential scenarios from major weather events to health emergencies. Can I stress, we're not worried at this time about any risk of event cancellation.
Question: Are you calling for Illawarra residents to get vaccinated?
Answer: Few industries have as powerful a voice as the sports community, and I believe we can and should use our influence to encourage people to get vaccinated.
That being said, we live in a democratic society and we respect everyone's right to make their own personal decision.
I had my first vaccination this week because, like so many people, I want to see life in Australia return to normal.
We love our sport and we love to travel and the sooner we get vaccination numbers up, the sooner we will be able to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 came along.
Question: How can people in the community help you at this time of your preparation?
Answer: Two words; education and advocacy.
We don't expect everyone to become an expert on road cycling but by watching some of the Tour de France and road cycling at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, you'll get a good sense of the sport.
You'll quickly understand the strategies employed and the names of some of the stars who'll be coming to Wollongong in a little over 12 months.
We're also relying on locals to spread the word. Tell your family and friends, build the excitement, clean up the spare room for visitors. And when the call goes out for our volunteer army later this year, consider putting your name forward.
Question: What planning is happening now to get riders and teams from around the world to the region next year?
Answer: We've partnered with Mummu Cycling (official tour operator for Le Tour de France) to create the Wollongong 2022 Travel Office and our discussions with the UCI and many International Member Federations and officials has accelerated over the past six months.
Around 25 per cent of the larger Member Federation Delegations are in the final stages of committing to significant room blocks across the region and we expect that number to increase rapidly later this year after the 2021 UCI Road World Championships in Belgium which can hopefully be the start of an economic shot-in-the-arm for so many local tourism businesses affected by the current COVID lockdown.
Question Are they likely to arrive days or weeks before the event to make preparations?
Answer: Based on the international racing schedule in August and early September next year, both in Europe and Canada, it's likely to be days rather than weeks in the lead up to our event.
This means we must have everything 100 per cent ready for their arrival, to facilitate training and of course our opening ceremony.
It is our hope that we will be able to welcome members of the Australian Road Cycling team more regularly over the next year or so.
We share AusCycling's ambition to use our home ground advantage to the max for Wollongong 2022.
Question: Are there any contingency plans if Australia is still experiencing COVID lockdowns in mid-2022?
Answer: Hosting any major international event requires significant contingency planning based on regular risk assessments with relevant Local, State and Federal government agencies.
We'll continue to monitor the COVID situation over the next 428 days and develop plans for every possible COVID scenario.
Question: What international feedback are you getting about the event being held in Australia? Are international teams and riders booking accommodation and making plans for training and preparation in the Illawarra already?
Answer: There's so much excitement. Many of the riders and officials have never competed in or visited Australia, so this will be a unique experience on so many fronts.
We also had a really positive response to our recent brand launch where many of the teams and officials got their first look at the beauty of our city where the mountains meet the sea.
Question: Are Illawarra residents starting to get excited and are more people getting into cycling because ot this international event being hosted in the city?
Answer: People are beginning to understand just how big this event really is. As I've said before, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Wollongong and we'll only get one shot at showcasing our city to the world.
With regards to more people riding across our community, one of the few positives to come from the pandemic has been the number of people who've taken to cycling to get their daily exercise for their physical and mental health.
We're now officially an internationally recognised UCI Bike City and with growing numbers of riders on our roads, tracks and mountains we're absolutely looking like a Bike City, and it looks great!
Question: It looks like we're all going to be locked down for the next few weeks, or more. Where is your focus going to be during that time?
Answer: Well, this weekend I'll be glued to the concluding stages of the Tour de France and cheering on our Aussies like Michael Matthews and Ben O'Connor.
Next, there's the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and I'm hoping for a swag of medals from our Australian Cycling Team who always do us proud across Road, Track, BMX and Mountain.
The announcement next week that Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympics will be a huge moment for Australia, and also for Wollongong, as the UCI Road World Championships will be the first major international event to be hosted in Australia post that decision.
There's no doubt we're seen as a great place to stage major international sporting events. We are a safe pair of hands, welcoming and we put on a great show. And that's exactly what's planned when Wollongong takes the global sporting centre stage in September next year.
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