Sydney, Australia – 30 July 2010
If you want an example of Why Sport Matters in a country, check out Australia. While much of the world is typically dominated by one major sport, Australia has an incredible breadth of sport to take in, both as a participant and a spectator. It is too hard to explain it all in this blog.
Let’s start with the football “codes” as they are referred to in Oz.
Firstly there is Rugby Union (traditional game with 15 players per side), and commonly associated with the elite and wealthy society. Australia currently has 4 teams that play in the Super 14, a league with teams from New Zealand and South Africa (the Melbourne Storm will join the league next season which will then be called the Super 15). Check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO Why Sport Matters filmed at a match in Sydney along with FIFA alumni Gabe Andrade (photo at right is John interviewing a player post-match). The national team is referred to as the Wallabies (named after the type of kangaroo), who have had great success on the international stage having twice won the Rugby World Cup.
Then there is Rugby League, a faster version with only 11 players per side. The National Rugby League (NRL) is Australia’s national domestic league (which also includes the Warriors from Auckland, NZ). Rugby League remains especially popular in New South Wales and is the sport of choice in Queensland. While historically known as a “working man’s” sport, the league is making efforts to continue to grow the sport throughout the country.
Australian Rules football is the country’s homegrown sport and often considered the most popular. Also known as Aussie Rules, AFL, or simply footy, it is a bit of a mixture of different sports. It is played on a massive oval pitch, with 18 players per side, where points are scored by kicking the ball through goalposts at either end. It requires a huge amount of athleticism, stamina, strength and skill, and all with no padding or protection. It is a huge participation and spectator sport in Australia.
Aussie Rules football originates from the south of the country, specifically from Victoria and its capital, Melbourne. In fact, the sport was previously referred to as Victorian Rules football, but is now making efforts to expand the game nationally and the league has been adding new teams from different parts of the country. Why Sport Matters had the good fortune to take in an AFL match in the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where we filmed this video with good friend Simon, who “barracks” (Aussie lingo for supports) for Hawthorne.
The other football code is soccer. With the recent success of the national team (called the Socceroos) having qualified for the previous two FIFA World Cups, the popularity of soccer is on the rise in Australia. The national league is called the A-League (which also includes one team from New Zealand – the Wellington Phoenix) and continues to grow. Why Sport Matters witnessed this passion by attending the Socceroos “farewell’ match in Melbourne in May before they left to play at South Africa 2010 World Cup (see photo of young Socceroos fans). The Australian Football Federation looks to capitalize on this interest and hopes to capture the rights to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
While the football codes are considered winter sports, the sport that rules the summer is cricket. Another cultural influence from Britain, cricket plays a key role in the history of Australian support. Australia’s sport icon is batsman Donald Bradman, considered to be not only the best athlete in its history, but one of the most famous Australians of all time. The national team is perennially amongst the world’s top teams, and the entire country watches when they play England in the famous “Ashes”.
The Olympics also play an important role in Aussie sport. Having hosted the Games of Melbourne in 1956, Australia set new standards with the wildly successful Games of Sydney 2000. These Games were not only successful from a sporting perspective, but also left a huge legacy of sport facilities and event management experience (see photo at top of Sydney 2000 Olympic Cauldron and Olympic Stadium). Why Sport Matters toured the Sydney Olympic Park 10 years after the Games were held (see photo inside the swimming venue), even catching up with world champion discus thrower Dani Samuels.
The reasons for Australia’s success can be seen at the Australia Institute for Sport in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The AIS is an incredible campus of sport fields and facilities, sport science laboratories, top coaches, accommodation and nutrition expertise and the latest sport technology. It is a dream for the top athletes to train here, and the centre continually produces world champions. Why Sport Matters took a guided tour with Paralympic swimmer Peter Leek, a multiple gold-medal winner in Beijing. See the YOUTUBE VIDEO we filmed from the Institute.
While it is typically considered a warm weather sport country, Australia also has an interesting and competitive winter sport culture. Why Sport Matters visited the Olympic Winter Institute for Australia in Melbourne, which houses training facilities for ice skating and ice hockey. We took a tour with legendary winter sport activist Geoff Henke and spoke with Vancouver 2010 gold medalist Lydia Lasilla (see photo).
The city of Melbourne is commonly referred to as the world’s ultimate sport city, and Why Sport Matters now understands the reasons. Melbourne citizens prove they are amongst the best sport fans as the city actively supports several teams in multiple sports and hosts some of the biggest sport events in the world.
Check out this list:
- Australian Open Tennis at Rod Laver Arena
- Legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which also houses the National Sports Museum
- Melbourne F1 Grand Prix
- Etihad Stadium which is also the administrative home to the AFL
- Host of the 2006 Commonwealth Games
- Melbourne Cup Horse Race
- Nine Melbourne-based AFL teams
- Olympic Winter Institute for Australia
- Professional teams in Rugby League, Rugby Union, soccer, netball and basketball.
As an island nation with most of the population residing on the coast, Aussies have a close relationship with the water and ocean, and lifesaving clubs are hugely popular and kids are taught how to swim and behave around water from a young age. Out on the waves, the surfing culture is alive and well and there is no place better to be a surf bum than Down Under! Don’t forget that off the coast of Queensland is the mighty Great Barrier Reef where Why Sport Matters also took the plunge and filmed this YOUTUBE VIDEO just moments before our first dive in this Wonder of the World!
Plenty of people to thank in Australia including Bob Elphinston, Lisa Hindson, Nicki Vance, Gabriel Andrade, everyone at the Austrialian Institute for Sport and Australian Sport Commission, Keith Lyons, Paralympic swimmer Peter Leek, Olympic discuss thrower Dani Samuels, Ross Coggan at Sydney Olympic Park, Mark Adams with the Socceroos, Patrick Keane at the AFL, Geoff Henke from Australia Winter Institute, Olympic Aerials gold medalist Lydia Lassila, Trevor Dohnt and everyone at the famous MCG, Bob Lay, ex-Prime Minister John Howard, Craig Philipps at the Australian Olympic Committee, Rodney and Nathan.
And a special appreciation of course to Martin, Louise and Noah in Sydney, and Stephen, Simon and Tiff in Melbourne, Annette and family in Canberra, and Andy and family in Townsville.