Australians are known as a sporting lot. We love the great outdoors and our games our footy, cricket, tennis and more. So it is no surprise that there are many huge Australian sporting events.
On any weekend you will see the sporting fields full of junior sporting matches. The pubs and clubs all have our favourite sporting matches on the big screen. From professional sporting events to an impromptu game of beach cricket, every conceivable sport is played in Australia each day. So what is Australia’s biggest sport? Well that depends.
In terms of participation rate, swimming would have to be our national sport. Most Australians have been involved in some form of swimming or surfing during their lives. However despite its popularity, swimming doesn’t draw the crowds of spectators.
Australian sporting events
However Australia does host a number of international sporting events throughout the year. These sporting events draw crowds in the hundreds and thousands from both Australia and overseas. They are the basis of our growing “Sports tourism”, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.
Regardless of how active (or inactive) we are, everyone becomes a bit of an expert for the duration of these events. If you happen to be visiting either Sydney or Melbourne when one of these sporting events are on, it’s well worth taking the opportunity to go along, even if it is only for the atmosphere. Outside the city areas, visit any pub or club while one of these events are on and you can guarantee the locals will be glued to the big screen to watch the match.
1. Test cricket
Australians are passionate about their cricket, in particular the “the Ashes”, a series of five matches between Australia and England, hosted in turn every two years. The urn containing the ashes of a cricket ball has passed between England and Australia some 70 times since the first test in 1882 and Australians gather at the Melbourne Cricket ground or in front of the TV to follow the test. Test matches are one of the Australian sporting events that can be seen at cricket grounds in other capital cities, however it is the MCG that is synonymous with large crowds.
Similarly, the Boxing Day test cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is very much an Australian tradition. Those of us lucky enough to be near the MCG flock to the grounds to picnic on our Christmas leftovers, enjoy a beer and, of course, the cricket.
Elsewhere, we tune into the television to settle back and watch the match with a cold VB and a ham sandwich.
The tradition goes back to the 1890’s when Boxing Day matches were held between the Victorian and New South Wales cricket teams. The initial international test matches were held during the 1950’s, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the match became a firm Aussie tradition. After all, most blokes would rather be at the cricket than a Boxing Day sale.
Where: Melbourne Cricket Ground
When : December 26
2. Sydney to Hobart Yacht race
If you happen to be in Sydney on Boxing Day, be sure to head to Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race on Boxing Day. This was certainly my family tradition when we were growing up in Sydney.
The 630 nautical mile race over five days is considered one of the most difficult yacht races in the world. However the race is about more than the sleek yachts which speed their way to Hobart.
There is a carnival atmosphere at both the start and finish lines to celebrate the race. Flotillas of pleasure craft take to Sydney Harbour to watch the spectacle. Crowds gather on the shoreline to sip champagne and picnic by the water. On New Year’s Eve, the party continues in Hobart as the final yachts reach the finish line.
When: December 26 Sydney, December 31 Hobart
Where: Start- Sydney Harbour, finish Hobart Tasmania
Sydney to Hobart Yacht race
3. Australian Open
For two weeks in January, Australians all become tennis experts, as international tennis stars battle it out on Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne for the Australian Open Tennis tournament. The first of four grand slam tennis events is held during the last two weeks in January each year.
However the event is more than just the high profile tennis matches. Melbourne Park has a real carnival atmosphere during the event.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a seat in Rod Laver Arena, a ground pass give’s you exceptional value for a day out in Melbourne. Watch the big names warming up on the back courts and fun demonstration matches between former champions. Enjoy wine and food tasting, live entertainment, or relax in deck chairs outside the main arena of an evening and watch the match on the big screen.
Where: Melbourne Park
When: Last two weeks in January,
4. Melbourne Cup
If you happen to be in Melbourne on the second Tuesday in November, the Melbourne Cup is an experience not to be missed.
Melbourne Cup Day is described in Australia as “the race that stops a nation”. Which it literally does. It is only an official public holiday in Victoria, However you will find very few businesses open after lunch on Melbourne Cup Day elsewhere in Australia.
Party goers mingle with serious punters at Flemington Race Course to drink champagne, eat chicken and have “a flutter” on Australia’s famous thoroughbred horse race. The fashions of the field are almost as hotly contested as the horse race, with ladies and gents dressed up to the nines. An absurd hat is a must-have fashion accessory for the day.
In the weeks before Melbourne Cup day, most Australians become a bit of a racing expert. For many it is the only day of the year they “have a flutter”, with office sweepstakes organised in most workplaces.
Most towns around Australia will have at least one Melbourne Cup function. . Everyone “frocks up” and dons a ridiculous hat to head to the club or pub, enjoy a sumptuous Melbourne Cup lunch and watch the big race on TV.
When: second Tuesday in November
Where: Flemington race course, Melbourne
5. Footy Grand finals
In most countries of the world, the word “footy” is pretty self explanatory. In most European countries it refers to soccer. However in Australia a variety of “footy” codes are played. There are two distinct and very different football codes, both of which are extremely popular and hold their grand finals on consecutive weekends. Don’t get them confused, both their followers are very passionate about their teams. The footy grand finals may not draw international spectators, but they are certainly one of the biggest Australian sporting events.
Throughout the year, in most workplaces and clubs you will find a “footy tipping” competition, culminating in the season’s grand finals at the end of September.
Rugby League (NRL) and AFL are two very different games, but each draw crowds in excess of 100,000 to their grand finals each year. Both events provide a fun festive atmosphere, with pre-match performances by leading entertainers.
NRL Grand final
Rugby League, or NRL originated in New South Wales in 1908, spreading in popularity across the eastern coast. Most teams originated from Sydney suburbs: Manly, South Sydney’s “Rabbitoh’s”, Canterbury Bulldogs and the Sydney Roosters. However the competition today includes teams such as the “Brisbane Bronchos”, Canberra Raiders and Melbourne Storm. The grand final is traditionally held in Sydney
As well as the grand final, a “State of Origin” series is held throughout the year. Queensland (The Maroons) and New South Wales (The Blues) vie for honours in a three match series, with teams made up from players who played their first matches in each state.
So if you happen to be in Sydney the first weekend in October, the NRL Grand final is a great Sydney cultural experience.
When: First weekend in October
Where: ANZ Stadium Sydney
AFL Grand Final
AFL (Australian Football League) originated in Victoria and is also played in all states except Tasmania. Eighteen teams from across the country vie for a position in the Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground each September.
Most teams are Melbourne-based, representing towns such as Geelong, Carlton, Hawthorn and St Kilda. However you will also now see teams such as the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles (Perth) competing for the premiership.
The AFL Grand Final is a Melbourne cultural event worth experiencing.
When: Last Saturday in September
Where: Melbourne Cricket Ground
6. Australian Grand prix
The Formula one race event is held each March on the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit. Public roads around Albert Park are closed temporarily for the race which attracts a large international audience. Get there early to take in the practice laps and soak in the carnival spirit. Fans can meet motorsport heroes, as well as enjoying displays, food and beer tents and family entertainment.
When: The second weekend in March each year
Where: Albert Park, Melbourne.
While there are many more great Australian sporting events held each year, these are the events which draw huge crowds of locals and visitors alike in a growing sports tourism market.