A few stops along the number 12 tram route from the CBD of Melbourne, within the leafy surrounds of Albert Park, the Victorian Institute of Sport stands.
Housed within a refurbished 146-year-old red-brick grandstand, before which patrons once watched the 1901 Victorian Football League grand final, the VIS is an institution that is unmistakably Melburnian.
The Australian Grand Prix is run on the road circuit at the doors of the VIS from where the lights of the MCG are visible of an evening in one direction and the waters of Port Phillip Bay glisten in the other. South Melbourne FC, Ange Postecoglou’s spiritual football home, is a neighbour as is Melbourne’s Sports and Aquatic Centre which was one of the centrepieces of the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
As is often said, Melbourne and sport go together, something seemingly reinforced by the locality and purpose of the VIS.
It is certainly more accurate, though, to say that the VIS and Victoria go together.
Approximately a third of the 450-odd athletes who train out of the VIS are drawn from regional Victoria or areas just outside of the state.
From Hamilton in the far-west to Bright in the north and Lakes Entrance in the east, Victoria’s aspiring Olympians and Paralympians have access to the holistic suite of services that the VIS provides.
Moreover, VIS athletes routinely take their inspirational stories and elite performance lessons to regional Victoria through the Be Fit. Be well program which reaches more than 20,000 school students each year. 52 per cent of all Be Fit. Be Well presentations in 2022, for example, were delivered in regional and country Victoria.
The VIS also supports the six Victorian Regional Academies of Sport who access the expertise of the VIS through regular visits to Albert Park.
Interestingly, there are clusters of athletes and sports in certain regions.
It is no surprise that the surfers on scholarship are drawn from the coast – primarily the Surfcoast – or that the sailing contingent all hail from seaside communities.
Central Victoria and the Mansfield area in the north are cycling strong. There is a heavy representation from bowls in the central and western regions of the state.
In all, there are 48 VIS scholarship holders from western Victoria, 27 from central and northern Victoria and 31 from eastern Victoria, with near on 50 more from other parts of the country.
The area with the biggest representation is the southern metropolitan region of Melbourne, where many of the gymnastics cohort and sizeable percentages of the VIS rowing and sailing squads hail. Approximately 90 athletes are drawn from the region.
The statewide spread of VIS scholarship holders can be seen as a measure of the appetite for, and health of, sports across the state. At least in terms of participation.
There may be sports more or less popular in different areas, giving rise to sporting subcultures that build into strongholds, but sport in general remains democratic and of central importance from east to west and north to south.
And the VIS: it may be housed in Melbourne but is unmistakably Victorian.