This September we will welcome the world to Wollongong for one of the five biggest annual sporting events on the planet, the UCI Road World Championships. Wollongong as a city and a community will come together to put on the best World Championships the international cycling family has ever seen. And the best part? You don't have to wait until September to be part of the action.
As the local organising committee for the event, we are inviting you to get involved in the celebration now. You will start to see lots more tangible signs of the event as soon as next month. In February, Wollongong children will have new opportunities to enjoy the beauty of bike riding during Australia's first ever Ride Nation Bike Immersion Days rolling out across local schools.
Ride Nation is AusCycling's participation program, like AFL's ''Auskick" or Netball's "Net, Set, Go". As a result of the UCI Road World Championships coming to Wollongong and the event's legacy program, we have one of only three Ride Nation community hubs right here in the Illawarra. This means our kids will be amongst the first in Australia to have the chance to try out bike riding and develop road safety skills starting next month.
The Bike Immersion Days that Wollongong 2022 will deliver in tandem with AusCycling are tasters of the Ride Nation Bike Education program, a 6-8 week interactive learning experience for children of various skill levels to develop essential bike control skills, build confidence and learn how to ride safely in the community. If you are keen to see your child, niece, nephew, grandchild or neighbour learn more about bike riding, why not encourage their school to join in? They can connect with us at email@example.com
For adults, the opportunity to formally register as a volunteer with Wollongong 2022 and be part of Wollongong's largest ever event is also fast approaching. More than 1000 volunteers will be required across the eight days of the event in a range of roles including marshals, drivers and information services. You certainly don't have to be a cycling expert - there are roles for all!
The Governor-General of Australia, His Excellency David Hurley AC DSC, born and bred in Port Kembla, pledged his support for the Wollongong 2022 volunteer program last November when he confirmed his involvement as a Friend of Wollongong event ambassador.
Being a volunteer is a rare chance to be involved in an Olympic-scale event right here in Wollongong, to meet people from near and far, to develop new skills and to share your passion for the city with others. The program will open in the coming months and we encourage you not to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of something special in your own backyard by registering your interest at wollongong2022.com.au/volunteer-opportunities.
We are also engaging with the community and business network of Wollongong ahead of the event to tap into and support local initiatives that harness the positive power of bike riding. The work that Wollongong City Council and Destination Wollongong are undertaking to bring Wollongong's prestigious UCI Bike City Label status to life is an outstanding demonstration of how cycling connects people and creates opportunities.
It was a privilege to attend a Community Partnership workshop facilitated by Destination Wollongong in December as part of this program and hear about the innovative ideas and ways that organisations are exploring to use cycling to enable community engagement, social support networks, fundraising, skill building, and so much more. As we rebuild from a challenging couple of years, these opportunities have never been more important.
Further, we look forward to developing relationships with even more local business leaders in 2022 through our partnerships with Invest Wollongong and Business Illawarra. We have a joint vision for the 2022 UCI Road World Championships to be a platform to attract future investment and support economic growth across the region as we highlight the unique lifestyle benefits of living and working in Wollongong.
But the most simple way to get involved in the "Year of the Bike" is to get riding! Bike riding is accessible to everyone, enjoyable at all skill levels and a great way to share time outdoors with family and friends. The Australian government's Sport 2030 strategy outlines the priority to build a more active Australia, understanding that improved physical and mental health reduces the risk of chronic illness, improves management of mental illness and facilitates greater social connectedness. The physical and mental health benefits of cycling are significant, be it through a regular coffee ride with friends or a family adventure along the Blue Mile.
The Australian government recognised the opportunity to take advantage of the excitement surrounding the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong to inspire a nation of future bike riders and see more Australians, more active, more often. That's why they generously committed $5 million last month to Wollongong 2022 event leveraging initiatives and AusCycling participation programs such as Ride Nation.
The announcement of the government's investment in the event coincided with our launch of the courses for the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, which has been incredibly well received by the international and Australian cycling community.
We were excited to see newspapers and websites internationally and across Australia profiling the spectacular landscape of Wollongong and promoting the event as a "must visit" for cycling fans. The tourism benefits will begin to flow immediately. And that's just the beginning.
Now, we are diving deep into preparations for the event, including planning for a visit from the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale - the governing body of cycling internationally) in the coming months and we look forward to sharing our progress, and our city, with them. We will also be watching with interest this weekend some of Australia's best cyclists at the 2022 AusCycling Road National Championships in Ballarat and encourage you to get a taste of some fast paced action via SBS on Demand and AusCycling social channels.
The new year is usually the hallmark of new beginnings, but 2022 has started with an air of uncertainty and anxiety as we all navigate the next phase of pandemic together beside our amazing healthcare and frontline workers. Still, we remain confident that the 2022 UCI Road World Championships will be the right event at the right time for Wollongong, giving us a cause for celebration and to come together as a community after so many challenges.
And in the meantime, we can keep getting back on our bikes - no pandemic can stop those wheels turning, especially in the Year of the Bike.
- Stuart Taggart is CEO of Wollongong 2022