The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is practically a sporting contest of its own – a perennial tug of war that will doubtless shuffle back and forth for eternity. While Sydney might claim to have the upper hand when it comes to beaches and weather, Melbourne is the clear winner with regards to sport. It's the only city in the world to host a tennis grand slam and a Formula One race, plus there's the small matter of the nation-stopping Melbourne Cup.
Last April, the city received the ultimate accolade, being named Sports City of the Decade at the Ultimate Sports City awards in Switzerland.
Far from resting on its sporting laurels, Melbourne continues to stage new events every year, creating such a hectic sporting calendar that one wonders how Victorians get any work done.
Here are some of this year's highlights.
THE EVENT Formula One Australian Grand Prix – March 23-26
PERFECT FOR Rev heads
WHY GO This year's F1 season opener should be a cracker thanks to wider, faster cars that are predicted to lap Albert Park five seconds quicker than before. The race will also be the 10th anniversary of Lewis Hamilton's stunning 2007 Melbourne debut, where he finished third behind Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. This year Hamilton has a new Mercedes teammate – Valtteri Bottas (whom hopefully he gets on better with than his previous one, Nico Rosberg). Of course, there's local talent too with Daniel Ricciardo hoping to win his first Australian grand prix in front of a home crowd.
NEED TO KNOW Albert Park is only four kilometres south of the city and ticket holders can reach the track using one of three free GP express trams. While the F1 events (the qualifying sessions on Thursday and Friday and the race on Sunday) are the main drawcards, there's a busy schedule of supporting races and entertainment over the four-day event.
THE DETAILS General admission from $30 (free for children 14 and under when accompanied by an adult). Grandstands from $89. See grandprix.com.au
THE EVENT Women's AFL – March 18, 19 and 25
PERFECT FOR The footy-mad
WHY GO To witness history – this is the inaugural season of the women's Australian Football League. Arch rivals Carlton and Collingwood kicked off the competition on February 3 at Ikon Park and since then eight teams (four of which hail from Victoria) have been battling it out all over the country. The seven-round season concludes on the weekend of March 18/19 with the grand final being played on Sunday, March 25. The competition sees several female athletes making their footy debuts, including Olympic basketball player Erin Phillips and former Matildas goalkeeper Brianna Davey.
NEED TO KNOW With the exception of some double-header fixtures, all matches are free.
THE DETAILS Melbourne vs Fremantle at Casey Fields on March 18. Carlton vs Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on March 19. The team that finishes top after seven rounds will host the grand final on March 25. See afl.com.au/womens
THE EVENT Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach – April 12-24
PERFECT FOR Surf dudes and dudettes
WHY GO The world's longest running surfing competition celebrates its 56th anniversary this year, pitting the world's best surfers against some of the world's best waves at Bells Beach on Victoria's south coast. Last year, Sydney boy Matt Wilkinson won the men's competition and Californian native Courtney Conlogue won the women's. Who will get to ring the prestigious bell in 2017?
NEED TO KNOW Bells Beach is near Torquay, 100 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. Access to the beach is ticketed but the surrounding cliffs also provide spectacular views of the action. See torquaylife.com.au
THE DETAILS Tickets available at the venue on the day. See worldsurfleague.com
THE EVENT Great Ocean Road Running Festival – May 20-21
PERFECT FOR Mo Farah and Cathy Freeman wannabes
WHY GO Running a marathon is never an easy proposition, but at least on this one you'll be distracted by the spectacular coastal scenery of the Great Ocean Road. Don't worry if you're not marathon ready, there's also a half marathon, a 14-kilometre race, a six-kilometre race, a 1.5-kilometre "Kids' Gallop" and three walks. Marathon too tame? Then check out the gruelling 60-kilometre ultra from Lorne to Apollo Bay. Even if you're not competing, there will be plenty going on in the area, including two kite festivals and free entertainment.
NEED TO KNOW The 14-kilometre, six-kilometre and 1.5-kilometre races are on Saturday, May 20. The ultra, marathon, half-marathon and three walks are on Sunday, May 21.
THE DETAILS Entry fees start at $20. See greatoceanroadrunfest.com.au
THE EVENT Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour – June 9 and June 13
PERFECT FOR Fans of the beautiful game
WHY GO To see some of the world's finest soccer players in action on Aussie soil. International superstars Messi and Neymar will grace the MCG when Brazil takes on its arch rival Argentina on June 9. Then it's the Socceroos turn, tackling the might of Brazil and the likes of Dani Alves and Philippe Coutinho at the same venue on June 13.
NEED TO KNOW The MCG is two kilometres south-east from the centre of the city and is easily reached on foot or by public transport.
DETAILS For tickets and more info, see ticketek.com.au
THE EVENT Rugby League World Cup – October 27 and November 19
PERFECT FOR Loyal league legends
WHY GO For the first time Melbourne will host the opening match of the RLWC, with the Kangaroos taking on England at AAMI Park on October 27. The five-week tournament will be played across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea but will return to Melbourne on November 19 for a quarter-final. As defending champions, Australia will certainly be hoping to repeat their 2013 RLWC performance when they trounced New Zealand 34-2 in the final at Old Trafford.
NEED TO KNOW Fourteen teams will compete across four groups, with a knockout stage deciding who makes it to the final in Brisbane on December 2. AAMI Park is two kilometres south-east of the city and features a futuristic bio-frame roof with unobstructed views from every seat.
THE DETAILS Tickets from $40. See rlwc2017.com
THE EVENT Fast5 Netball – October 28-29
PERFECT FOR Party-loving netball nuts
WHY GO Taking its cue from Twenty20 cricket and rugby sevens, Fast5 is a high-scoring, high-action version of netball with five players per side, shortened quarters, multiple point shots and double point power plays. In 2015, Melbourne won the rights to host the tournament from 2016 until 2018 and this year sees the world's best teams congregate once more on Hisense Arena in October for two days of intense competition. New Zealand has beaten Australia in the final for the last three years. Could 2017 be the year the Flyers pull one back from the Ferns?
NEED TO KNOW Conveniently in the heart of Melbourne Park, Hisense Arena is a 30-minute stroll from the city centre and is well served by trains, buses and trams.
THE DETAILS Tickets on sale soon. See fast5worldseries.com.au
THE EVENT Spring Racing Carnival – September to November
PERFECT FOR Armchair gamblers and fashionistas
WHY GO The highlight of the Australian horse-racing calendar, this annual extravaganza sees the world's top jockeys and horses battle it out during more than 100 race meets in and around Melbourne. While the headline-grabbing Melbourne Cup gets much of the glory, there are many other notable races, including The Caulfield Cup, the W.S. Cox Plate and the Victoria Derby. Add fabulous food, fashion and fizz to the mix and you've got a three-month-long excuse to get dressed up and party.
NEED TO KNOW Races are held across several tracks including Flemington, Caulfield and Mooney Valley, all of which are within easy reach from the city by public transport.
THE DETAILS General admission tickets start at $10. See springracingcarnival.com.au
OTHER NOTABLE EVENTS
In October, the world's best motorcycle riders will converge on Phillip Island for the three days of exhilarating racing in the MotoGP (motogp.com.au). The Kookaburras and Hockeyroos will both be in action in November during the International Festival of Hockey (hockey.org.au). And December sees the return of the eight-day Sail Melbourne regatta to St Kilda, featuring Olympic and invited classes (sailmelbourne.com.au).
Rob McFarland was a guest of Visit Victoria.
FIVE MORE GREAT SPORTING CITIES
New York is the only US city with more than one team in all five of the country's most prestigious sports leagues. Whether you're into American football, baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer, you'll find something being played somewhere almost every day of the year. See nycgo.com
As the birthplace of many sports, London has an appropriately impressive sporting calendar – in summer, there's Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, athletics and cricket; in winter you've got Premier League football and world-class rugby. See visitlondon.com
You haven't seen passion until you've been to a soccer game in Argentina. The atmosphere when local rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors meet is legendary but any game at their respective home grounds – El Monumental and La Bombonera – will deliver the goods. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar
Baseball is the national obsession, but you can also find world-class soccer, basketball and – of course – sumo wrestling in Japan's capital. Expect the city's sporting credentials and facilities to reach new heights as it prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. See gotokyo.org
Thanks to two world-class football clubs (Hertha BSC and Union Berlin), the country's most successful basketball team (Alba Berlin) and one of the world's most popular marathons, Berlin is Germany's sporting centre of excellence. See visitberlin.de