Whether you’re visiting Australia for a short time or you plan an extended stay, you’ll notice one thing right away: Australians love sports. They cheer for local and national teams in all types of sports — and generally show a fierce loyalty to their teams that almost borders on obsession.
Having a basic understanding of Australian sports is important if you’re going to while away an afternoon in a pub, and it can help spark conversations with the locals. If you have time on your trip, plan to attend a local sporting event — you too might leave with a new passion.
You probably know that “football” means soccer in most parts of the world – and American football in the U.S. In Australia, however, football or “footy” refers to three different sports depending on where you’re located and with whom you’re speaking.
Rugby is the national sport of Australia, and its fans are as passionate as those who follow soccer in Latin America and the UK. Rugby is a full-contact sport played with a ball. It’s intense and sometimes brutal, as players do not have the benefit of protective pads and helmets like in other sports.
The premiere rugby league in Australia is the National Rugby League or NRL. Most of the 16 teams in this league are based around Sydney, and the season runs from March through October. One of the highlights of the season is the best-of-three competition called State of Origin between Queensland and New South Wales; the winner gets bragging rights for the year. The league also plays some international games with New Zealand.
Australia is also part of the Rugby Union, a league of international rugby teams. The Australian team, the Wallabies, competes annually in the Tri-Nations Series against New Zealand and South Africa, and against teams from all over the world every four years in the Rugby World Cup.
Aussie Rules Football
In some parts of Australia, footy refers to a version of football much like American football. Aussie Rules Football is a bit different from American football, but it rivals it in popularity. The sport is most popular in Victoria, but the 16 teams in the Australian Football League or AFL represent cities all over the country, including Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. The 22-game season runs from March through September and ends with the Grand Final, the Australian version of the Super Bowl.
In some circles, footy refers to soccer, as played in the traditional European sense. Australia supports a national team, the Socceroos, which plays against teams from around the world. The Socceroos have won several World Cups.
After rugby, cricket is the second most popular sport in Australia. Similar to baseball, cricket is commonly played at the beach and at barbecues, and children play it in parks during the summer. The Australian cricket team is one of the best in the world, and it has won many major international tournaments and events.
As an island nation, it’s no wonder that water sports are popular among Australians. Some of the best surfers in the world compete in tournaments in the waters off Australia’s coasts, and multiple regattas each year draw spectators to the shore to watch yachts and sailboats race. Swimming, canoeing and kayaking are favorite pastimes on the many lakes and rivers around the country.
Each year Australia hosts some of the world’s top international tennis tournaments, attracting thousands of passionate tennis fans from home and abroad. The most famous tournament is the Australian Open held every January; the Open is the first of four annual Grand Slam events (followed by the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). Perth’s Hopman Cup is a chance for top-ranked doubles players to show their stuff, and several smaller tournaments give rising stars chances to qualify for the major tourneys.
Some of the world’s top-ranked golfers hail from Australia, including Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Karrie Webb, and it’s no surprise. Australia is home to more than 1,500 golf courses — several designed by well-known champions — featuring spectacular views. Australia hosts several major golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Masters.
Australia is a rugged, independent country, and many residents enjoy an active, outdoor lifestyle. It’s only natural, then, that sports play such an important role in the national culture and identity. Whether you prefer the calm, steady skill of golf or the rough-and-tumble action of the rugby field, you’ll find a sport to enjoy in Australia.
This guest post article was written and provided by Erica Gustafson who is an avid Australia traveler, freelance writer and digital media consultant for Expedia. She helps others with their Hotel booking needs.