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Sinclair farewell tour game adds to region's burgeoning hosting portfolio

Greater Victoria is playing host to an increasing number of top-level events
A soaked sold-out crowd of 6,102 at Starlight Stadium in Langford stayed right to the end to see out the all-time world scoring leader Christine Sinclair in her penultimate game in a Canada jersey on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

You can sit back here and watch the best of the sporting world go by.

Victoria fans over the past few years have had the opportunity to watch Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andrew Wiggins, R.J. Barrett, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko and Perry Baker run, dribble, skate and shoot through town. Next summer it will be Vernon Adams Jr. and Lucky Whitehead.

Three of the Canadian national teams headed to the 2024 Paris Olympics — men’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s rugby — have spent a significant amount of time playing qualifying or other games here.

This past week was particularly newsworthy with the announcement of the B.C. Lions playing the Ottawa Redblacks on Aug. 31 at Royal Athletic Park in the first Leos home game in their 70-year history not to be played in Vancouver at Empire Stadium, Empire Fields or B.C. Place. Talk about putting the B.C. in Lions.

A capacity crowd of more than 6,000 then saw all-time world scoring leader Sinclair and fellow retiring Olympic gold-medallist Schmidt play their penultimate soccer games for Canada at a sold-out Starlight Stadium on Friday night in a 5-0 victory over Australia.

“The atmosphere was brilliant and the reaction of the fans was amazing, and this is what these players do it for,” said Canadian head coach Bev Priestman.

That’s on top of the nationally Sportsnet-broadcast Hockey Day in Canada to be hosted in Victoria by Ron MacLean and company on Jan. 20.

“At 400,000 [population], we are coming into our prime as a vital city,” said Destination Greater Victoria CEO Paul Nursey.

“We expect [the B.C. Lions game here] to make an economic impact of $12 million to the region,” added Nursey, whose organization is also involved with Hockey Day in Canada on Jan. 20 with action from the Inner Harbour to be beamed across the country.

The Sinclair farewell tour soccer game, Lions CFL game and Hockey Day in Canada follow the Tokyo and Paris Olympics qualifying basketball and rugby tournaments held at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in 2021 and Starlight Stadium last summer, respectively. The Toronto Raptors held their 2022 NBA training camp in Victoria and the Vancouver Canucks their NHL training camp in the capital this year. That follows the world junior hockey championships in 2019 at the Memorial Centre.

It isn’t by happenstance.

“This isn’t happening by accident,” said Keith Wells, executive director of the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission.

“We provide targeted sponsorship and essential support to event organizers, which makes it easier for them to bring events to Greater Victoria. In 2022, our office helped 22 events and this year we have assisted with 38 events. The majority of our funding comes from our hotel partners in Greater Victoria. They deserve credit for purposely helping to bring sporting events here for the benefit of the entire community.”

The economic benefits are great but so are the emotive ones.

Sinclair circled the Starlight Stadium pitch in the rain Friday night, long after the game ended, signing autographs as her adoring young Island fans held out No. 12 jerseys, posters or just sheets of paper. How do you put a dollar value on that?

“They [young fans] won’t realize what a big moment this was to get an autograph or picture taken with Christine until in the future,” said Canadian coach Priestman.

“The same with Christine.”