The return of junior domestic basketball is only weeks away and major sporting events could return to Bendigo Stadium early in the new year.
That’s part of the plan Bendigo Stadium Limited chief executive officer Nathan O’Neill has in mind as the region’s biggest sports and entertainment venue works its way out of a 2020 ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a challenging year for all businesses and we’re not exempt, but I don’t think we’d change anything in terms of how we’ve managed it,” O’Neill said.
“Looking back on how the organisation has handled the lockdown has been sound to date, although there is still a long way to go.
“You don’t know how you’re going to handle a moment until you’re in it. We’ll continue to be positive and optimistic, and ensure we work our way out of COVID.”
‘We will be back bigger and better’
The Bendigo Stadium bistro and sports bar reopened recently with patron restrictions, while it was announced last week that Guy Sebastian will appear at the stadium as part of his national tour in November next year.
BSL hopes to release other big events soon, including the possible return of a major boxing event.
“For 2021, 70 percent of our event calendar is filled, but we will just have to see what events we can have, particularly in the first few months of the year,” O’Neill said.
“Our team’s been exceptional in event planning for 2021 and promoters have continued to come to us to look at potential events for next year. It’s been really positive.
“We’re negotiating with a boxing promoter for an event in the first third of 2021.
“Obviously, government restrictions in terms of how many people can attend the event will play a major role.
The Jeff Horn versus Michael Zerafa fight was one of the biggest sporting events to be staged at Bendigo Stadium.
Last year’s Jeff Horn-Michael Zerafa Battle of Bendigo boxing event attracted a bumper crowd, with 72 per cent of attendees travelling from Melbourne.
Zerafa has been linked to a return to Bendigo Stadium, with Anthony Mundine his potential opponent.
From a domestic point of view, more than 460 teams normally participate in junior and senior basketball on a weekly basis.
The absence of local basketball has been a body blow to the Bendigo Stadium, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Working alongside the Bendigo Basketball Association, we’re looking at a November starting date for junior basketball,” O’Neill said.
“There’s no starting date for senior basketball, and it is hard to see senior basketball returning in 2020.”
The return of major basketball events could also be just around the corner, COVID-19 restrictions pending.
January would be a bumper month for hoops, with the annual Bendigo Junior Classic and a new 3-on-3 tournament pencilled in.
“The Junior Classic is a Bendigo Basketball Association event and I understand they are still planning to run the event, dependent on government restrictions,” O’Neill said.
“We still don’t know what the restrictions will look like for January, but at this stage the plan is for the tournament to go ahead.
“In mid-January we have a 3-on-3 event for junior and senior players that will be played on both inside and outside courts.
“We’ve had local 3-on-3 events before. Teams entering this event will earn FIBA points, so it should be a very good standard.”
There’ll be no Bendigo Spirit WNBL games in Bendigo this summer, with the entire season to be played out of a “bubble” in north Queensland through November and December.
“It’s disappointing for the club’s members and fans that we won’t have games in Bendigo this season,” O’Neill said.
“Under the current circumstances we’re lucky that we’re able to have a season.”
The Bendigo Braves men’s and women’s squads will return to action in 2021, with O’Neill confirming NBL1 was planning towards an April starting date.
Courtesy of Adam Bourke, Bendigo Advertiser