Sydney and the Arts

Australians are mad about sport. This is a brief backgrounder for you.

Football codes

Football is commonly referred to as 'footy', but this can have different meanings.

English visitors are immediately at home with the three main football codes: soccer (we are supposed to call it 'football', but nobody does), Rugby Union and Rugby League, but we also play Australian Rules and touch football. To take these in order, soccer is played between teams of eleven, who are often professional, Rugby Union is played between teams of fifteen, who are amateurs who accept money, and Rugby League is played between teams of thirteen, who are in it for the money.

Aussie Rules, as it is generally called, (they call it "Australian Football", but nobody else does) is played by teams of eighteen, and this code is also professional at the upper end. The game is quite spectacular, although its detractors often call it "Aerial Ping-Pong". It has its origins in Gaelic football, for what that's worth, but it is played with an oval ball, not a spherical one. It is worth going to see: the competition is national, and Sydney's team is The Swans.

Public brawls between the players are regrettably common in all codes other than Rugby Union, where the vile thuggery is just as bad, but it is confined to piles of heaving bodies on the ground, and scrums, so you can't see it going on quite as clearly. These unpleasantries are largely avoided in touch football, where body contact is avoided: so far, touch has been left alone by the TV cameras: it is a game of skill, free of the usual over-acting and posturing. So far, 'touch' remains an amateur sport.

All of these sports are played in winter, though some touch football is played through summer, and the commercial codes run for longer periods every year. The national soccer competition, however, is now in summer. We are told to call it football, but the national team is called the Socceroos, so what do you expect? On that note, the national Rugby team are the Wallabies, while the national Rugby League team is called the Kangaroos. The Australian women's hockey team is known as the Hockeyroos, while the men's national team is the Kookaburras.


A sport in some countries, almost a religion in others. The subject of Test matches and also of one-day and day-night matches throughout the summer. In winter, our cricketers go overseas and start all over again in somebody else's cricket season. To give you a measure of how popular cricket is, a lot of people only tolerate the Prime Minister because he likes cricket.

In summer, people play cricket if they want a team sport: women play it as well as men, but there are fewer of them, and they draw almost no attention from the media. Cricket is an art and a mystery. If you have come from a place where cricket is not played, forget about it: you are too late to ever be initiated into its mysteries.

More than half the Australian population think that "One Day Cricket" is more exciting and better than traditional cricket. This is like saying that human sacrifice is more interesting than Zen Buddhism. It may well be true, but who cares? Anyhow, if you have not been properly bred to the task, you are unlikely to understand cricket now. If you do know what you are doing, buses past the Sydney Cricket Ground run from Circular Quay and Central Railway. Avoid "The Hill" if you are a gentle person.

For the rest, I suggest that you read the back pages of any newspaper, to find out what is going on, or watch the television news broadcasts. Iyt is remarkably hard to avoid news of sports in Australia.

This file is, first created on March 7, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on October 11, 2006 when it was checked and declared sufficiently complete for the present.

© The author of this work is Peter Macinnis. You are free to point at this page. Copies of this page or set of pages may be stored on PDAs or printed for personal use. You can't contact me at, but if you add my first name to the front of that email address, you can -- this is a low-tech way of making it harder to harvest the e-mail address I actually read.
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