Big Bash ready to roll as Australia women's sport weathers COVID impact

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fears that the COVID-19 pandemic might have a dire impact on women's sport in Australia have eased in recent months and on Thursday 120 of the world's best cricketers were gathered in Sydney for the 2020 Women's Big Bash League.

Sports bodies have been hit hard in the pocket by the global health crisis but while international competition remains problematic, women's programmes and tournaments have largely survived, altered but intact.

The WBBL Twenty20 tournament gets underway on Sunday and will take place entirely in Sydney with the players cloistered in a bio-secure bubble at the vast sports complex built for the 2000 Olympics Games.

The 2019 edition of the eight-team tournament was the first as a standalone product and attracted good crowds and TV audiences.

That fed into the enthusiasm for the Women's World Cup, which attracted a crowd of 86,174 to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Australia beat India in the final -- just as the first novel coronavirus outbreak hit the country.

"There (are) high expectations for this season off the back of the biggest ever year for the women's game," said Cricket Australia's Alistair Dobson.

Any cricketers not in action on Sunday will be able to hear the cheers of the crowd at the Olympic Stadium for the women's rugby league final between the double defending champion Brisbane Broncos and the Sydney Roosters.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) announced last week that the 13th season of the W-League would kick off on Dec. 27 as excitement begins to build towards the 2023 Women's World Cup, which Australia will host with New Zealand.

Rugby union also announced its women's domestic season on Thursday with six teams taking part in seven matches in November, giving players from the Wallaroos national team vital playing time ahead of next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

"Whilst we were disappointed the seven planned test matches ... couldn't go ahead this year due to COVID-19, it's fantastic to receive the green light for this action-packed domestic competition," said Rugby Australia's Jilly Collins.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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