Over 100,000 will gather in Adelaide’s CBD today to watch Lance Armstrong, Cadel Evans and their pro-cycling buddies – impressive for a city with just over one million inhabitants. Adelaide, so often derided by its eastern seaboard brethren as a backwater has, in fact, contributed much to the wider Aussie sporting landscape, be it cycling, motorsport and even rugby.
The Tour Down Under has grown exponentially over the past decade, fuelled in the last two years by the presence of Lance Armstrong, becoming the first event outside of Europe to be included on the UCI’s Pro Tour.
It was state government funding and support that helped the event develop beyond its formative stages, and Premier Mike Rann hasn’t hidden the fact that the government has dipped into its own pockets to attract the likes of Armstrong, knowing how crucial competitors of that calibre are to an event’s success.
Adelaide has an impressive history of not only attracting such international events to the state – particularly impressive when you consider its size – but also turning them into a success.
The Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix was Adelaide’s forerunner of its major sporting events – first held in 1985, becoming one of the most popular stops on the F1 tour.
South Australian government support was crucial in attracting the event; attempting to put Adelaide on the map and distinguishing it from Melbourne and Sydney to an international audience.
Without that state government investment and the success of the season-ending Adelaide race, it is unlikely Australia would be enjoying its current golden age in motorsport, which owes much to the knock-on effects of the race that helped to popularise all forms of motorsport in Australia.
When the race was lost to Melbourne, Adelaide rebounded with the Clipsal 500 for the V8 Supercar series – creating the template of a festive city event that is being replicated by races across the series, particularly in Sydney (Homebush).
Government investment was also crucial in bringing the Sevens Rugby tournament to the state, perhaps the strangest feather in Adelaide’s cap.
Although the South Australian Rugby Union board was established as far back as 1932, Adelaide is far from a rugby stronghold, with Aussie Rules the staple sporting diet for locals.
Adelaide’s League and Union footprint is almost non-existent (anyone remember the Adelaide Rams?), yet the state government, yet again, invested heavily to attract the event, which is popular with locals, fitting neatly into Adelaide’s congested opening few months of each year alongside the Tour Down Under, Clipsal 500 and various Arts and music festivals.
The idea of moving the Sevens tournament away from Adelaide to try and help expand the form of the game on the eastern seaboard was recently raised here on The Roar, and though the proposal won’t be well received in the city (Adelaidians have a fear of major events being stolen – see the Grand Prix), it is yet another example of how an Adelaide grown event could go on to substantially benefit the wider Australian landscape.
But few events are as well received as in Adelaide, which is deprived of so many world class acts, be it headline bands or major acts.
As a result the locals create a euphoric support for events in the state, and Adelaidians tend to idolise their sporting heroes like few others – to the point where a non-sporting friend told me he was concerned at how feverishly Adelaide was under the Armstrong spell and backing Premier Rann and his sporting investments.
Armstrong’s arrival into Adelaide unbelievably and inexcusably bumped the Haiti tragedy from the frontpage of the daily newspaper, The Advertiser, on Thursday.
When Armstrong sent out an invite to join him on a public ride through his Twitter page, approximately 5,000 accepted and joined him.
It’s a sports mad city, perhaps only truly rivalled by Melbourne, and on Friday night at Hindmarsh, with Armstrong stealing the headlines, this point was proven with the woeful and bottom of the table Adelaide United pulling yet another 10,000 plus crowd – an incredible phenomenon this season that I’ve explored previously.
Far from a backwater, Adelaide’s legacy and impact on Australian sport is immense.
When debating the sporting capital of Australia, Adelaide deserves a mention at minimum.