Sport is something of a national obsession in Australia. We’re avid followers of ‘footy’, which covers everything from rugby union to the uniquely Australian AFL. We play backyard and beach cricket all summer and turn out in our thousands to watch the iconic Boxing Day test at Melbourne’s MCG. Summer is also the season we become amateur commentators at our Grand Slam tennis tournament. We have lush, championship-designed golf courses across the country and host many premier golf events. Our marathons attract hundreds of thousands of runners and rev-heads everywhere know about our car racing events such as the Formula 1 Australia Grand Prix.
Australia’s beloved ‘footy’ covers four codes, which can get a little confusing. Depending on who you’re talking to and the state you’re in, this could mean Australian Football League (AFL), Rugby League, Rugby Union or the soccer that most Europeans know as football! All codes command a strong, loyal fan base and share the same season from March to September.
If you see men in shorts leaping to great heights on a large arena with an oval ball, then you’re probably watching a game of AFL or Australian rules football. Developed in Melbourne in the 19th century, AFL is Australia’s premier spectator sport, and the most attended sporting league. Popularity is highest in Victoria, where it’s practically a religion, but Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane also have passionately supported AFL teams. The league comprises 16 teams which play 22 home and away rounds between late March and September. The four-week finals series culminates in the Grand Final, one of the country’s top sporting events.
Rugby League is a full contact ball sport, which branched out from Rugby Union in the early 20th century. The National Rugby League or NRL (Australia's premier Rugby League competition) is mostly played in Australia’s eastern states, with most of the 16 teams are based in and around Sydney. The NRL season kicks off in early March and culminates with the grand final on the first Sunday of October. State of Origin is a best-of-three series between New South Wales and Queensland. It’s held during the middle of the regular NRL competition, attracting sell-out crowds and huge TV audiences. There are also annual international games such as the Australia Vs New Zealand ANZAC Day test.
Australia’s Rugby Union team is the Wallabies and each year – clad in green-and-gold - they compete with New Zealand and South Africa in the Tri-Nations Series. Their on-field battles with the New Zealand All-Blacks form the Bledisloe Cup, while the games with South Africa are part of the Mandela Challenge Plate. Every four years, Australia competes with rugby-playing nations from across the world in the Rugby World Cup. Seven former Australian players, including Nick Farr-Jones, have been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. Australia’s state teams play with each other and New Zealand and South African teams in the Super 14s.
Beach soccer, Byron Bay, NSW
Australia’s first national soccer team was formed in 1922 for a tour of New Zealand. In 1974, Australia made their first appearance at the World Cup finals in West Germany. Today the national team –the Socceroos – has several World Cups behind it and is gaining success on the international circuit. The Socceroos qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa without losing a match. The whole nation will proudly be behind their progress through each round of the competition.
Hyundai Hopman cup, Perth, WA
Each January Australia becomes the headquarters for international tennis, hosting a number of tournaments in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Kicking off the season is Perth’s Hopman Cup, where eight top-ranking doubles teams compete for a tennis-ball trophy encrusted with Kimberley diamonds. In the first week of January, top male players warm up for the Australian Open at the Brisbane International. Female tennis stars hone their serves at the Moorilla Hobart International a week later. The tennis greats head to Sydney for the Medibank International, before Melbourne’s Australian Open at the end of the month. It’s the first of four Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open.
With more than 1,500 golf courses across Australia, it’s no wonder golf is a popular leisure sport for Australians. We have both public and private courses, some which are champion-designed and many boasting spectacular views. Many courses are connected to luxurious resorts which offer ‘stay and play’ packages. Our top resorts are in southern Queensland, but Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia also have acclaimed resorts. Australia’s world-class players include Greg Norman, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and Karrie Webb. Our premier golf events are the Australian PGA Championship the Australian Masters and the Australian Open Golf.
Australians have played cricket for more than 200 years and it's one of our most popular sports. Over summer we play it at picnics, barbeques, beaches and parks. The Australian cricket team, with their trademark baggy green caps, is one of the world’s top-ranking teams. The competition consists of Test series lasting from three to five days, One Day Internationals and the Twenty20 series. There is also the Ashes, where Australia and England compete for the charred remains of a wicket. Our most famous match is probably the one-day Boxing Day Test at Melbourne’s MCG. Australia’s cricket heroes include Sir Donald Bradman, Ritchie Benaud, the Chappell brothers, Waugh brothers, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath.
Car racing has a passionate following in Australia, which hosts a number of rubber-burning events. Each March, Melbourne’s Albert Park is the venue for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. In April or May, elite drivers race around Tasmania for the Targa Tasmania – a five-day tarmac-based rally. Primed V8 Supercars hit the Gold Coast in October for the Nikon SuperGP (formerly the Indy 300). Much fanfare accompanies this high-adrenalin race along the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit. You’ll also enjoy the buzz around the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1,000, held in Bathurst in October.
Marathons are big on Australia’s sporting calendar, and most of these also feature half marathons, 10km and 5km races. The Great Ocean Road International Marathon happens in May and the popular Gold Course Airport Marathon draws distance runners from around the world in June. Each August, elite runners and thousands of Sydneysiders take part in City to Surf, a scenic 14km course between the city and Bondi Beach. The Sydney Running Festival happens in September, with different courses to suit different fitness levels. The 42km marathon travels from Milsons Point, over the Harbour Bridge and through Sydney’s inner-west and CBD to Centennial Park.