Melbourne will host the Australian Indigenous Athletics Championships for the first time, giving more than 100 of the country's best track and field athletes a chance to show off their talent at Lakeside Stadium until Saturday.
Minister for Sport and Recreation Hugh Delahunty and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Jeanette Powell today welcomed the athletes at a special ceremony at the Korin Gamadji Institute at Punt Road Oval and presented them with official championship singlets.
"It is a pleasure to welcome competitors from all across Australia, as far as Nhulumbuy in the Northern Territory to Marree in South Australia," Mr Delahunty said.
"On top of competing, the athletes will have the chance to participate in a 'getting to know Victoria' program, coaching workshops run by elite athletes, nutritional classes and leadership workshops.
"The championships are a perfect chance for young, enthusiastic athletes to emulate their heroes and experience the thrill of competing at a world class venue, while also gaining valuable life skills."
Mrs Powell said Victoria had been home to many leading sporting legends such as cricketing star Johnny Mullagh, endurance runner Alby Clarke and boxing legend Lionel Rose, all of whom were recently added to the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll.
"With the London Olympics scheduled for later this year, the wonderful example of Cathy Freeman should be an inspiration to those competing.
"The Victorian Government is committed to 'closing the gap' between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians. One of the principles guiding our approach is that every Victorian should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
"These championships help 'close the gap' by promoting healthy active lifestyles and by encouraging Indigenous athletes to aspire to excellence in their chosen sporting field," Mrs Powell said.
The Victorian Government has contributed $20,000 towards the championships from the Significant Sporting Events Program.
The Australian Indigenous Athletics Championships runs from the 10-14 April 2012 at Lakeside Stadium, Albert Park.