Aussies’ love for sports comes second only for their love for beer. And as a newcomer in the country, it’s not hard to get lost and confused in this affinity, what with the confounding terms and slangs and parlances they’ll throw at each other like they are secret codes of a clandestine society (“What on earth is a ‘footy?’”).
Today, we will clear out the haze and re-introduce you to these athletic pastimes that Australians are going gaga about, whether in the field or in their couches while drinking beer.
Or footy, as blokes usually call it, Australian Rules football isn’t just a sport, but a cultural pillar that transcends to other media not typically seen with other sports such as poetry, the arts, and even mythology. Ironically for non-Australians, this is a plain source of further confusion.
You see, it’s called Australian rules football because it has its own set of rules to set it apart from association football where they use a circular ball, American football where body armors are involved, and rugby. Australian Rules football is being played between two teams of eighteen players on an oval (not rectangular like in other forms of football) field. The main way to score points is by kicking the ball between the two tall goal posts (not touchdown as opposed to American football).
Like American football, tackles are involved, but they cannot run carrying the ball. They can only kick it or hit it.
Australian rules football is considered as the most popular sports in the country as it attracts the greatest overall interest among Aussies than any other football code (code is sports talk for variation) and has consistently ranked first among other sports.
For an untrained eye, it’s not very hard to mix up rugby with Australian Rules football, since both involve muscular men in short shorts jumping on each other for the possession of a singular oblong ball (we know, it sounds very off in paper). The key difference lies in spotting the number of players (rugby has 15 or 13 players only, Aussie football has 18), how much the players trying to bulldoze each other (rugby has a lot more of contact), and the shape of the field (rugby is played on a rectangular field).
In Australia, there are two codes playing the sport, each one having its own rules: The Rugby Union which was founded in 1949 and National Rugby League (NRL) which is considered the more popular sport of the two. Players of both codes are not necessary and completely constricted to their respective factions, as many players have moved between codes on the course of their careers.
Nope. We’re not yet done kicking balls. Soccer (or association football), the world’s most famous sport, is also a big deal here in the Land Down Under, as it is one of the most played outdoor team sport in the country and consistently ranked high in television audiences.
The British immigrants first brought the sport to the country during 19th century. It wasn’t until 1922 that the first national soccer team was created for a tour of New Zealand. Australia’s first venture into the famous FIFA World Cup finals was in 1974 when they faced West Germany. It wasn’t until 2006 that the country qualified again, ending the 32-year absence.
A-League, the professional men's soccer league in the country, pulled in US$92 million in revenue last year (that’s US$6.9 million each club), making it one of the most lucrative sports in Australia.
Eleven men trying to bat a rolling ball with a wooden paddle may not be the most heart-stopping of all sports, but in Australia, this thing is a major hit. Some considered cricket the country’s national sport, as it spawns equal interest in all regions, and is increasingly popular at international, domestic and local levels. Cricket Australia's annual report says that from 2014 to 2015, 1.2 million Australians played formal, organised cricket during the period, a 9% raise over the previous period, making it one of Australia’s biggest participant sport. This increase pours over female participation as well, with an 18% in their number.
Very much like baseball, cricket is played with bat and a ball, and with two teams consisting of 11 players each. One team bats and runs to score, while the other team rolls down and deflects the ball, attempting to restrict the scoring and dismiss the batsmen.
And get this: due to the material the ball is made of (cork, layered with tightly wound string, and covered by a leather), its weight (163 grams or almost 6 ounce), and the velocity it travels (160 kilometers per hour), cricket has been deemed as the most dangerous ball sports on the planet, and can actually killed its players. We’re taking back what we said about it not being heart-stopping.
With an average area of 74 acres (30 hectares) golf has the largest playing ground of any ball sport. And it is only fitting that a country as expansive as Australia is home to so many golf courses. Also, three of the oldest and most famous golf tournaments in the world is being held here: the Australian Open (since 1904), the Australian Masters (since 1979), and the Australian PGA Championship (since 1905).
But perhaps the popularity of the sport can be attributed to the population demographics. The country is a go-to destination for retirees from around the world. Not to mention, retirement system here is very efficient, golf has become the favored pastime of the senior population. The sport does not require enormous physical energy, speed, and stamina (unlike the ones mentioned above), but rather focus, thinking, and strategy. Basically, things that our retirees had earned along the way.
Now here is the part where it gets weird. For a country which is 60% desert and where snow is mostly non-existent and solely relegated to a certain region, an ice-related sport such as ice hockey going popular is a subject of bedazzlement. And to further add to this bewilderment, the country’s organization in charge of the sport, Ice Hockey Australia, was founded in 1908, making it one of the oldest associations of its kind.
But the ice hockey wasn't a runaway hit back then, as it was only moderately popular with mediocre participation and minimal audience attendance compared to other sports. It wasn’t until 2000 that the lukewarm pastime became overly cool (heh!) in part due to the establishment of the Ice Hockey League, seeing an increase in players and viewers.
Currently, Ice Hockey Australia has seven state and territory-based affiliate associations across the country.