By TOM HAYES
TRARALGON Little Athletics Centre believe they have missed an opportunity to regrow their club due to the cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
After seeing first-hand how the Matildas and the Women’s World Cup had a positive effect on regional soccer, specifically for girls, the Traralgon Little Athletics Centre believe a similar impact could have hit them if the Games were to be held in regional areas.
“With the Games coming to regional areas, we thought that it might boost our numbers, because with the Matildas in the Women’s World Cup we’ve seen an increase in girls particularly participating in soccer,” Traralgon Little Athletics president Sarah Johnson said.
“With the Matildas, the soccer clubs are really driving that, they’ve had ‘come and try’ days since and the girls are all about it.
“They really piggy-backed on the success of the Matildas, and they used it to their advantage … I just feel that we’ve missed that opportunity.
“The kids watch it on TV, and even if it’s not held locally, they still get around it.”
With that thought in mind, Johnson and the Traralgon Little Athletics Centre thought that idea would work well for them too.
“We thought with the Commonwealth Games, it might increase our numbers through athletics as well,” she said.
“The government was going to pour a lot of money into building up our regional venues as well, in preparation for the Games, so when they said that they were cancelling it we were a little disheartened.”
In comparison to metro-based clubs, Johnson believes having a regional-based Games could have been a much-needed benefit to regional clubs.
“It’s a bit of a kick in the guts as well because we need to improve our facilities in regional areas, we don’t get as much as what metro-based clubs have got,” she said.
“At Moe’s Joe Carmody track, they have a different running track to us and permanent throwing cages, which is what we want to get as well.”
Johnson was equally disappointed for the region, which was likely to receive an economical boost through the influx of people coming to the area.
“We need all the travel, we need those things that we don’t usually get in regional areas, it’s really hard when they limit that and cancel it,” she said.
“We just had the Teachers’ Games and there was just an influx of people coming to the region and spending money staying in the hotels and eating out and it’s a such a boom and it’s really important.
“In the Latrobe Valley, we do have some great facilities, but with the Commonwealth Games no longer coming, that limits another one of those big events coming here.”
Although Traralgon Little Athletics Centre was never involved in any direct funding in correlation with the Games, there was a chance that they could receive partial funding.
Now that it appears unlikely and up in the air, Johnson and the Traralgon Little Athletics Centre have to find alternative ways to boost registrations that have been on a decline since the COVID pandemic.
In the 2018/19 season, Traralgon Little Athletics Centre boasted 138 members, memberships dropped to 115 the following year which was the beginning of the pandemic.
And during the pandemic, numbers continued to drop to 97 in 2020/21, 91 in 2021/22 and 80 just last season.
The Little Athletics season began recently, with a little over 80 registrations made to the club ahead of the season.
Numbers at the club took a hit during COVID, and now Johnson and her committee are left with the job of building them back up again.
“It hasn’t recovered from COVID, so we’re trying to work really hard to boost those numbers back into sport,” Johnson said.
“We’re tracking registrations as they come through, we always get an influx the week of (Little Aths starting).”
Ahead of the Little Athletics season, Johnson and the Traralgon Little Athletics Centre have come up with creative ways to gain attraction.
Starting off with ‘bring a friend day’ which allows members to bring a friend to try athletics for free, in hopes that they will enjoy it and sign up too.
Hypothetically speaking, numbers could double if each friend that comes decides to join for good, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ideas.
“It’s just about getting your name out there,” Johnson said.
“The thing is being a summer sport is it clashes with cricket and basketball, so we have lost a couple of kids to those.
“The thing with Little Aths is that it’s individual … but footy, or cricket, or basketball – it’s a completely different environment.”
This appears to be a common trend with kids opting to quit athletics, as moving into a team sport with friends becomes more appealing, hence why Little Athletics struggles with retention compared to mainstream team sports.
Unless participants thrive in their selected events, most don’t make it to their final year.
Traralgon Little Athletics Centre offers most track and field events like jumping events, javelin, discus, shot put, sprints, long distance and walking.
Children can compete between the age brackets of Under 6s to Under 17s.
Little Athletics only used to be available to kids up to Under 16s, but found that an Under 17s division allows for a smoother transition into the open class, and alternatively may help with retention of members.
Traralgon Little Athletics Centre also cater for children with disabilities, with their own division at the club.
Those interested in joining Traralgon Little Athletics can visit traralgonlac.com.au/