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Sports in Australia - The ultimate guide

Looking for a full rundown on sport in Australia? Save this article, this is going to be your go-to guide for everything sports down under.
By · February 9, 2024
Sports in Australia - The ultimate guide

If you call Australia home, you'll understand just how much the locals love their sport. In fact, four out of five (80%) Australians agree that sport is a significant part of their culture - so knowing a thing or two about it certainly helps when it comes to meeting people and making connections.

Whether it's conversations by the water cooler, trivia nights with friends, or catch ups over a cold one, you're going to want to know what's what, in the world of Aussie sport.

In this article we’re sharing everything you need to know about sport in Australia. We’re talking about the most popular sports, top sports by region, sports teams, top sports people of all time, and so much more.

Save this article, print off this page, this is going to be your go-to guide for everything sports down under.

Table of contents

Australians and sport

It has been said that Aussies are more religious about sport, than religion itself. The average Australian spends roughly 2.5 hours per week watching sport at home and 2.5 hours per week actively participating in sport, compared to just 35 minutes of religious or spiritual activities.

It's not surprising then, that Australians have made their mark around the world as top competitors across a wide range of sports. They’re world championship winners in cricket, rugby league, union, hockey, and basketball, to name just a few. Not to mention they’re in the top 20 for medals won at the Olympics.

Key facts

  • More than 90% of Aussie adults have an interest in sport
  • About 13 million adults and 3 million children take part in sport each year
  • 3.1 million Australians volunteer in sport and active recreation each year
  • Sporting activities generate an estimated $32 billion annually on sales and supports 128,000 jobs in Australia

Top sports in Australia

Cricket, surfing, swimming. rugby, AFL and more. Here’s the rundown on the top sports in Australia.

AFL

AFL (Australian Football League) is an Australian sport originating in the state of Victoria. Since its inception in 1860, the game has expanded across the country to a total of 18 AFL clubs.

Commonly referred to as ‘Aussie rules’ or ‘the footy’, AFL is played on a large field equal to the size of 2 regular football fields.

Game breakdown

  • 18 players on a side
  • 4 additional players that switch on and off the bench
  • Game broken into 4 x 20 minutes quarters
  • The umpire starts the game by bouncing the ball in the centre circle
  • The ball is passed through a combination of kicks, handballs and running
  • A player can score either a goal (6 points) or a behind (1 point)
  • A goal is scored when a player kicks the ball between the two middle posts
  • A behind is scored when a player kicks the ball between the inside and outside posts
  • When running with the ball, the player must bounce and catch it every 15 metres

NRL

The National Rugby League (NRL) began in Australia in 1908 as a rebel football competition against the New South Wales Rugby Union. Nowadays, the NRL runs the world’s premier Rugby League competition made up of 17 teams (16 from Australia and one from New Zealand).

Game breakdown

  • 13 players per side
  • 4 additional players that switch on and off the bench
  • A match is 80 minutes long with 2 x 40 minutes halves
  • A ‘Try’ (4 points) is scored when the ball is touched to the ground over the try line of the opposing team
  • A ‘Conversion’ (2 points) occurs after a try as an extra opportunity to score points. The player kicks through the posts above the crossbar
  • A ‘Drop goal’ (1 point) is scored when a player drop kicks the ball through the posts above the crossbar
  • ‘Penalty goal’ (2 points) occurs after a rule breach. The team awarded the penalty can take a kick at goal for a potential of two points
  • The ball must be passed backwards (by hand)
  • Players can pass the ball among team members until such time that they are tackled down
  • Teams have possession of the ball for a total of six tackles or plays. On the sixth tackle of play, the players usually opt to kick the ball down the field in an attempt to gain territory. If they choose not to kick on the sixth play, the ball will be handed over to the opposing team
  • A scrum consists of six players per team and is used to restart the game

Cricket

Australia’s cricketing history goes back some 200 years. The first reports of the game were published in newspapers in 1804. Since then, cricket has become one of Australia’s favourite summer sports. But, unless you’ve grown up playing the game, it can be a little confusing to understand. Here’s the basics.

Game breakdown

  • 11 players on each team
  • Each team gets an opportunity to bat and to bowl
  • The end goal is for the batting team to score as many ‘runs’ as possible before being ‘bowled out’
  • 1 run is scored when the two batters (the striker and the non-striker) safely arrive at the opposite wicket without being bowled out
  • When a batter hits the ball outside of the boundary (cricket pitch) 6 runs are awarded
  • The focus for the bowling team is to get each batsmen out with as few runs as possible under their belt
  • Batsmen can be bowled out by: catching the ball on the full (before it bounces) or by hitting the three wooden stakes (stumps) located behind the batter
  • LBW or Leg Before Wicket is when a batter's legs intercept the ball before it hits into the stumps. This is a cause for dismissal in the game

Surfing

Australia is home to some of the best beaches and waves in the world, so it’s no wonder that surfing is ingrained as a core part of the Aussie way of life. In fact, Australia has between 2.5 and 3.5 million active surfers who enjoy the waters on a regular basis.

Although there is a long history of surfing across many parts of the country, it’s actually unclear exactly when the sport landed officially. However, the first manual for swimming featured a chapter on surfboards and that was published in 1867 by Charles Steedman. In any case, it’s clear, surfing has been around for a long time.

Competitive surfing breakdown

  • Surfing events are made of of rounds and heats
  • Surfers compete to lock in their two highest scoring waves (out of a possible 10 points each)
  • A panel of five judges score the waves
  • The highest and lowest scores of the judges are discounted and the surfer receives the average of the remaining three scores
  • Priority is when one surfer has the right of way in catching any wave they choose
  • Interference is when a surfer impacts the scoring potential of another surfer, interference penalties usually follow

When scoring, judges take into consideration:

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty
  • Innovative / progressive manoeuvres
  • Combinations
  • Variety of manoeuvres
  • Speed, power and flow

Netball

Netball was first introduced to Australia in the late 1890’s and back then it was known as ‘Women’s Basketball’. The sport has come a long way since then and the Australian team is now ranked as number one in the world.

Game breakdown

  • There are seven playing positions in a netball team
  • Players must always have one foot on the ground when they catch the ball. They can then pivot on that foot, but not move forward or backwards
  • Netball is a no-contact sport. If contact is made a free pass is usually issued to the opposite team member
  • Players have designated areas based on their position - they must not leave that area otherwise it is considered ‘offside’
  • If a ball is thrown out of the court, the opposite team is awarded the ball
  • Goals can only be scored by the assigned shooting players
  • Netball games are 60 minutes long, divided into 15-minute quarters
  • The team with the most goals at the end, wins the game

Horse Racing

Horses were first brought over to Australia in 1788 marking the beginning of horse racing across the country. In 1810 Australia held the first recorded thoroughbred race meeting and by 1861 the first ever Melbourne Cup was held.

This race is such a big event that most businesses stop to watch each year - hence the nickname ‘the race that stops the nation’. The hype is so big in the State of Victoria that locals have a public holiday for the race each year.

Horse racing overview

  • Horse riders are known as jockeys
  • Flat racing is when horses race a track free from obstacles
  • Jump racing is when hurdles and other obstacles are presented on the track for horses to leap over as part of the race
  • The winner is determined by whichever horse crosses the line first

What are the most popular sports in Australia?

If there’s one thing that will get Aussies going, it's debating the significance and popularity of their favourite sport - and it can vary greatly depending on where you are in the country.

There are also differences between the most popular sports to attend, most popular sports to watch and most popular sports to participate in. Let’s break it down.

Most popular sport to attend

The most attended sport in Australia is AFL - and it takes the top spot by a landslide. The annual attendance rate is 16% of the population, that’s compared to its closest rivals NRL (Rugby League) at just 9%.

5,187,214 fans attended games throughout the 2023 season with an average crowd size of roughly 40,000, and the season grand final attracted 100,024 spectators.

Most popular sport to watch

The two major contenders for most popular sport to watch are the AFL and the NRL. Both sports rack up large tv followings each year, particularly around grand final time.

In the 2023 season NRL TV ratings totaled almost 107.5 million, while the AFL reached roughly 85 million viewers. This makes NRL the most popular tv sport in Australia at this time.

Most popular sport to participate in

While the most popular participation sports in Australia are running, swimming and cycling, soccer is Australia’s most widely played team sport with 570,000 Australians aged 14+ playing regularly.

Key Aussie sporting events

  • Australian Open (Tennis)
  • AFL Grand Final
  • NRL Grand Final
  • Melbourne Cup (Horse Racing)
  • Rugby League State of Origin

Historical Aussie sports people

Aussie sports trivia

  • Donald Bradman's career average was 99.94
  • Australia is one of only five nations to have participated at every Olympic Games
  • The American 4 X 100 metres freestyle relay swim team had never been defeated until the 2000 Olympics when they were beaten by Australia
  • Swimming is Australia’s most successful sport
  • In 2011, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France
  • In 2012, Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the US Masters
  • The Socceroos have the world record for largest margin of victory in an international soccer match, beating American Samoa 31-0. That's around one goal every THREE MINUTES
  • In 1889, wrestling on horseback was a sport

Sports stadiums in Australia

  • Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
  • Etihad/Marvel Stadium Melbourne
  • Sydney Olympic Stadium
  • Allianz Stadium Sydney
  • Suncorp Stadium / Lang Park / The Cauldron Brisbane
  • Optus Stadium Perth
  • Adelaide Oval
  • Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, NSW
  • Brisbane Cricket Ground ("the Gabba"), Brisbane, Queensland
  • Bellerive Oval, Hobart, Tasmania

Top sports by region

Given the sheer size of Australia, it’s no wonder there are differences from state to state when it comes to how popular a sport is.

Sports fans from NSW and QLD tend to be more focussed on the NRL than any other game. In fact, the two states are so passionate about the sport that there is an annual competition between the two representative teams known as the State of Origin.

In contrast, Victorians tend to be rather fanatical about AFL and horse racing. The other states and territories are a little more neutral.

State of Origin

The State of Origin dates back to one of the earliest interstate battles back in 1908. The game ended with NSW beating QLD 43-0 and launched one of the longest rivalries in Aussie sports.

Since that game 70 years ago, the Blues (NSW) and Maroons ( QLD) battle it out for a series of three games a year in an effort to gain bragging rights for their state.

Top-rated sports teams

NRL: The Penrith Panthers won the 2023 season, however the South Sydney Rabbitohs are the most successful team to date with 21 premiership wins under their belt.

AFL: Collingwood won the 2023 season, however Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon have won the most AFL premierships with 16 wins each.

Soccer: Melbourne city FC are ranked as the top performing soccer team in Australia followed by Sydney FC and Gold Coast United.

Kids sports in Australia

47% of children [aged 0-14] participate in organised outside-of-school hours sport-related activity at least once a week.

The most popular sports for children in Australia are soccer, with a participation rate of 48.7%, and swimming. These sports are followed in popularity by cycling, basketball and athletics.

School sports in Australia

Schools in Australia have a diverse sports curriculum that covers a wide range of physical activities including:

  • Australian Football
  • Surfing
  • Surf lifesaving
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Bowls
  • Cricket
  • Cross Country
  • Diving
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Netball
  • Rugby League
  • Softball
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Touch Football
  • Track & Field
  • Triathlon
  • Volleyball

A sports mad community

By now it should be clear just how dedicated Aussies are to their sports. Aside from all the banter and rivalries, sports offers an easy way for you to connect with others and plug in to your local community. Keep this guide on hand for those times you need a bit of background, a quick fact check or a conversation starter on one of Australia’s hottest topics.

If you’re planning a move to or across the country, we can help there too. Upmove helps you find the best moving companies and car transport providers at the best price - so you can get settled in sooner.

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