Welcome to The Debate, where the Mercury sport team discusses the big issues in Illawarra, national and international sport. This week, sports editor TIM BARROW and sports writer JORDAN WARREN discuss the impact of the world cycling championships and the future of major events in the region.
BARROW: Jordan, you were there front and centre, covering all the road racing action, as the Illawarra - from Helensburgh and Sea Cliff Bridge to Mt Keira and our finest beaches - was shown to millions across the world.
The racing action itself was spectacular, with Annemiek van Vleuten overcoming an elbow injury after a fall in the mixed time trial relay, to deliver a stunning burst and claim the women's road race.
Belgium's Remco Evenepoel was a dominant force in the men's event on Sunday. It wasn't all cheers and cowbells though, the big crowds stayed away until the final day, leaving businesses, particularly in retail and hospitality, frustrated.
Can we, overall, declare the championships the big success organisers promised?
WARREN: Exactly right Tim, we were certainly on the frontline for all the action for Wollongong 2022 and at times, it certainly delivered.
After a slow start in terms of crowd numbers, which had a few people questioning the effectiveness of the event, the locals came out for the main events, the elite women's and men's road races and didn't the crowd turn out and then some.
An estimated figure of more than 100,000 people gathered from Helensburgh to Marine Drive, to watch the riders battle it out over an absolutely brutal course.
The racing itself was sensational. I do want to make mention of van Vleuten's run. In my sporting life, that moment is one of the most amazing things I have ever watched.
With a broken elbow, to topple all her competition, as a 39-year-old mother of two no less, is simply remarkable.
In terms of your original question, I think it's a bit of a yes and no scenario.
Whether businesses actually profited from the event, obviously I haven't looked at their sales numbers throughout the week but from Monday through to Friday, before those main races, there were not enough people there to justify the event being an instant success.
What works in their favour is the fact the numbers did come out in force at the last minute.
I spoke to people who came from a variety of backgrounds, from Canberra to Colombia.
Accompany that with the fact that hundreds of millions of people were watching Wollongong, then the event was a success
What about you Tim, do you think that the organisers did enough for the locals to buy into it?
BARROW: Firstly, they were never, ever going to please everyone.
Cycling as a sport, as a workplace commute or a weekend pastime polarises opinion in Australia in general.
The reward will be increased and ongoing tourism after the international exposure and after being declared an official bike city, but we still lack major convention and sporting facilities for other events.
What can we learn out of last week? Plenty.
The training and rest day on Thursday was the prime example.
By pure circumstance, it also happened to be a public holiday to honour Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's passing, but rather than heighten community engagement in other ways, it was a real missed opportunity.
There could have been bands or other entertainment at Stuart Park, or WIN Stadium, something to really build the sense of excitement with the Illawarra public, which had been anxious about how it was all going to work with road closures.
It would have created some genuine goodwill, even with punters who aren't really interested in the action.
There was a disconnect in public messaging and promotional opportunities.
Some businesses, who were given advice on how to prepare for the week, were down 40 or 50 per cent on turnover, waiting for customers who left it until the final weekend to arrive.
From the feedback I've had, and from my own personal experience, there was an hubristic expectation among organisers, that people would just get on board because of the scale of the event.
And in the end they did, the road races were among the finest moments in Illawarra sporting history, the atmosphere on Sunday was amazing.
But on the days beforehand when I walked from the office and along Crown St to the media headquarters at WIN Entertainment Centre, I saw almost as many in Parramatta jerseys, as I did cycling tourists.
My broader point is, we can enjoy the success of the event and its international appeal while also identifying the shortcomings.
Now we've put Wollongong on the international cycling map, what's next?
What about hosting a round of the Supercars, like in Townsville or Newcastle?
Or as athletics columnist Valmai Loomes suggested, what about a marathon along the coastline? What would you like to see come to town?
WARREN: I think above everything the world championships showcased that Wollongong can host major events.
To see the sights of the Sea Cliff Bridge on worldwide television more than once is only going to heighten the tourism industry locally, which in turn is good for local businesses.
I think for me the thing I would like to see most, even though it won't happen, would be a FIFA Women's World Cup game played at WIN Stadium.
Of course the tournament will begin in the winter of next year, hosting 64 matches across Australia and New Zealand.
I think the cycling proved that Wollongong is a world class city with the ability to host quality events.
Of course we've seen some great news of late. Wollongong Wolves training base Albert Butler Memorial Park has been shortlisted as a potential training venue for a selected team and Football South Coast has announced $500,000 worth of funding, to upgrade the synthetic Ian McLennan Park, pushing their bid for a potential team to train there.
If there's a complaint for me it's that we need an upgrade of facilities, to be able to be consistently considered by sporting organising committees for future events.
What about you Tim, do you think that Wollongong's sporting facilities are up to the standard?
BARROW: As far as the World Cup is concerned, WIN Stadium as a venue will never fit the criteria while ever the beachside hill remains.
It has to be seated for major sporting bodies to recognise the capacity.
As for facilities, it seems the only way to secure significant funding is by luring major events. Want the smoothest roads in the southern hemisphere?
Do it by becoming the venue for the world cycling championships.
Need an upgrade for the only synthetic field south of Sydney?
Make a bid to be a World Cup training base.
Councils seem to be unveiling brand new playgrounds in every suburban park - which is great, I'm the father of two young boys - but our sporting facilities are years, in some cases decades, behind what's available in Sydney and in Victoria.
Parks are spaces for everybody, but what about the hundreds of kids lacking a decent basketball stadium?
Or unable to swim in an Olympic-sized indoor pool?
Sure, the weather is an ongoing problem for the football codes, but there are multi-sport venues in Sydney keeping kids and adults fit and active, while the Illawarra public continues to lag behind.
It's a disgrace and I've been advocating for better facilities long before COVID hit.
These a grim economic times, but they're also times to plan for the future and it's time our sporting bodies got serious about where we want this region to be in years to come.
Otherwise, we're going to have to host a major international event every year just to make things happen.
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