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4156.0.55.001 - Perspectives on Sport, May 2009  
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FEATURE ARTICLE 1: FOOTBALL: FOUR GAMES, ONE NAME



Australians are enthusiastic about their sport and have a particular passion for football.

Football (or footy as it is also known) in Australia can mean any one of four codes - Australian Rules football, Association Football (Soccer), Rugby League or Rugby Union. All four codes are team sports.

Australia is home to four professional football codes: Australian Football League (AFL), Australian Rugby Union (ARU), National Rugby League (NRL), and Football Federation Australia (FFA). AFL is the national competition of Australian Rules football and was formed in 1897 in Victoria. ARU is the national governing body for Rugby Union in Australia. NRL is the Australian national competition for Rugby League and FFA is the governing body for soccer in Australia. New South Wales and Queensland have teams represented in all four codes. Tasmania and the Northern Territory are the only state and territory without a football team in any of the four competitions.

The football code an Australian plays or follows is often dictated by where they live, their cultural heritage, or by the code they were taught at school (Endnote 1). Both Rugby Union and Rugby League are most popular in New South Wales and Queensland. Australian Rules football is the dominant form of football in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Soccer is considered to be the most popular team sport in the world (Endnote 2 and 3) and is played in over 200 countries (Endnote 4). Rugby League is played in more than 30 countries and is most prominent in Australia, England and New Zealand. Rugby Union is also popular in many countries including Australia, England, Wales and Japan.

This article presents results from the 2005-06 Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS) relating to participation in and attendance at these football codes in Australia. Further information can be found in the ABS publications Participation in Sports and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2005-06, (cat. no. 4177.0) and Sports Attendance, Australia, 2005-06, (cat. no. 4174.0).


PARTICIPATION IN MAIN FOOTBALL CODES

A sport participant in this article is defined as a person aged 15 years and over who participated in sports and physical recreation activities as a player or competitor at least once during the 12 months prior to interview in 2005-06. Persons who were involved only as coaches, umpires or club officials are, not included.

Nearly two-thirds (66% or 10.5 million people) of the Australian population aged 15 years and over reported that they had participated in sports and physical recreation activities at least once during the 12 months prior to interview in 2005-06. Walking was the most commonly reported physical recreation activity with 4.0 million people (25%) participating. This was followed by aerobics/fitness (2.0 million or 13%), swimming (1.4 million or 9.0%) and cycling (1.0 million or 6.3%).

Of the four main football codes, soccer (outdoor) was the most popular sport and physical recreation activity among Australians aged 15 years and over with 2.6% of the population participating (419,600). More males participated in this activity (3.9% or 311,500) than females (1.3% or 108,100).

The next most popular football code was Australian Rules football with 268,700 participants and a participation rate of 1.7%. Males had a higher rate of participation in Australian Rules football (240,800 or 3.1%) than females (27,900 or 0.3%).

Even though touch football and soccer (indoor) are not considered as one of the four main football codes their reported participation rates of 1.6% and 1.2% respectively were higher than both Rugby League and Rugby Union (0.6% and 0.5% respectively).

Participants, Selected football codes
Graph: Participants, Selected football codes


When looking at participation in the football codes by age group the following observations were made from the survey.

The 15-17 year age group recorded the highest number of participants (127,500) for soccer (outdoor) in the 12 months prior to interview as well as the highest participation rate, at 16%. Soccer (outdoor) recorded the highest participation rate in all age groups.

The highest participation rate for Australian Rules football was in the 15-17 year age group with 7.6% or 62,400 participants.

Participants, Selected football codes - By age

Age group (years)
15-17
18-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65 and over
Total

Number ('000)

Australian Rules football
62.4
100.6
75.6
*20.4
*8.9
**0.9
-
268.7
Rugby League
33.2
27.7
*22.9
*5.8
**1.7
-
-
91.2
Rugby Union
*19.8
28.1
*16.8
*7.3
*6.8
-
-
78.9
Soccer (outdoor)
127.5
121.3
91.6
62.5
*5.7
*10.5
**0.6
419.6

Participation rate (%)

Australian Rules football
7.6
5.2
2.7
*0.7
*0.3
-
-
1.7
Rugby League
4.1
1.4
*0.8
*0.2
**0.1
-
-
0.6
Rugby Union
*2.4
1.4
*0.6
*0.2
*0.2
-
-
0.5
Soccer (outdoor)
15.6
6.3
3.3
2.1
*0.2
*0.5
-
2.6

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)


Organised activities were defined as those sports and physical recreation activities which were organised by a club or association. Persons may participate in more than one organised activity and may also participate in non-organised activities.

Almost 87% or 68,500 people aged 15 years and over who participated in Rugby Union did so as an activity organised only by a club, association or other organisation during the 12 months prior to interview. Rugby Union reported the highest participation in an organised only capacity followed by Australian Rules football and Rugby League, both with 74%. Soccer (outdoor) reported the highest participation rate in a non-organised only capacity with 32%.

Participants(a), Selected football codes - By type of participation
Graph: Participants(a), Selected football codes—By type of participation


Australian Rules football recorded the highest participation rate in five out of the eight states and territories as well as the highest number of participants in those states and territories. These were Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Australian Rules football was less popular in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

Participation in soccer (outdoor) had the highest participation rate and the highest number of participants in New South Wales with 4.1% or 219,800 of the population aged 15 years and over. This was more than half of the total participants in Australia (419,600) for soccer (outdoor). The lowest participation rate for soccer (outdoor) was reported in South Australia with 1.4% or 17,200 persons.

Participants, Selected football codes(a) - By state and territory
Graph: Participants, Selected football codes(a)—By state and territory


When looking at the rate of participation by country of birth, people born overseas in non-English-speaking countries had the highest participation rate for soccer (outdoor) (3.3% or 91,300). This was higher than both the participation rate of people born in Australia and people born overseas in main English-speaking countries (2.5% and 2.0% respectively). People born in Australia had the highest participation rate for Australian Rules football 2.2% or 254,600 persons.

Participants, Selected football codes - By country of birth
Graph: Participants, Selected football codes—By country of birth


Regular participation was defined as participation undertaken more than twice a week in the 12 months prior to interview. Regular participants in sports and physical recreation activities represented almost half (45%) of all participants (4.7 million people or 29% of the Australian population aged 15 years and over).

The survey found that over one-third of people who were involved in Australian Rules football and soccer (outdoor) activities regularly participated in these sports (0.6% and 0.9% of the population respectively).


ATTENDANCE AT MAIN FOOTBALL CODES

Sport attendance in this article is defined as a person aged 15 years and over who attended at least one sporting event as a spectator (excluding junior and school sport) during the 12 months prior to interview in 2005-06.

Over two-fifths of the Australian population aged 15 years and over (44% or 7.1 million) reported that they attended at least one sporting event during the 12 months before interview in 2005-06.

In 2005-06, Australian Rules football was the sport most attended by Australians aged 15 years and over. It was attended at least once in the 12 months prior to interview by over 2.5 million people or 16% of Australians. Rugby League was the third most attended sport, with 1.5 million people attending at least one Rugby League match in 2005-06 (attendance rate of 9.3%). Rugby Union and soccer (outdoor) were the sixth and seventh most attended sports in Australia. There were 682,000 people (4.3%) who attended Rugby Union and 560,700 people (3.5%) who attended soccer (outdoor).

Other highly attended sports were horse racing which was the second most attended sport with 2.0 million people (13%), while motor sports (9.3%) was equal third with Rugby League and cricket (outdoor) was the fifth most attended sport with 4.6%.

Notably, Australian Rules football, Rugby League and Rugby Union football codes which had high attendance rates had the lowest participation rates (1.7%, 0.6% and 0.5% respectively) of the four football codes.

Participation and attendance, Selected football codes
Graph: Participation and attendance, Selected football codes


As previously identified, soccer (outdoor) was the most popular of the football codes participated in by Australians aged 15 years and over with 2.6% (419,600) of the Australian population participating in 2005-06. However, this is not reflected in the attendance as it is the lowest attended football code, with 3.5% or 560,700 people attending.

The attendance rate for Australian Rules football for males was 19% and for females 13%. Almost twice as many males (943,800 or 12%) as females (542,600 or 6.7%) attended Rugby League events during the 12 months prior to interview in 2005-06. A similar ratio was noted in attendance at Rugby Union attendees with males having almost double the attendance levels at these events (449,600 for males compared with 232,400 for females).

Persons attending, Selected football codes - By sex

Males
Females
Persons
Number
Attendance rate
Number
Attendance rate
Number
Attendance rate
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Australian Rules football
1 515.5
19.2
1 011.3
12.5
2 526.7
15.8
Rugby League
943.8
12.0
542.6
6.7
1 486.4
9.3
Rugby Union
449.6
5.7
232.4
2.9
682.0
4.3
Soccer (outdoor)
348.6
4.4
212.2
2.6
560.7
3.5



Males in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria had the highest attendance rates at Australian Rules football (37%, 36% and 35% respectively). Males in New South Wales and Queensland had the highest attendance rates at Rugby League, reporting 22% and 20% respectively.

The highest attendance rates for Australian Rules football were reported in South Australia (31%), Tasmania (30%) and Victoria (28%). People in Queensland and New South Wales reported low attendance rates for Australian Rules football with 7.4% and 4.7% respectively.

Conversely, high rates of attendance for Rugby League were reported for New South Wales (17%), Queensland (16%) and the Australian Capital Territory (14%). Attendance rates in the remaining states and territories were all less than 4%. Not surprisingly, the states and territories that had low attendance rates for Rugby League had the highest attendance rates for Australian Rules football.

Almost half of the people who attended Rugby Union were reported in New South Wales (334,500 people) and over one quarter were reported in Queensland (188,400). However, the highest attendance rate was reported for the Australian Capital Territory with 16%. Again, the lowest attendance rates for Rugby Union were reported in South Australia (0.6%) and Tasmania (0.5%).

The highest attendance rates for soccer (outdoor) were reported in New South Wales (4.8%) and South Australia (4.3%).

Persons attending, Selected football codes(a) - By state and territory
Graph: Persons attending, Selected football codes(a)—By state and territory


Of the four main football codes, the highest attendance rate was reported for Australian Rules football for all three birthplaces; people born in Australia (19%), people born overseas in main English-speaking countries (12%) and people born overseas in other countries (5.8%).

Both people born overseas in main English-speaking countries and people born in other countries had a higher sports attendance rate for soccer (outdoor) (4.3% and 4.0% respectively) than people born in Australia (3.3%). However, people born overseas in main English-speaking countries had a higher attendance rate for Rugby League and Rugby Union than soccer (outdoor).

Persons attending, Selected football codes - By country of birth
Graph: Persons attending, Selected football codes—By country of birth


Almost two-fifths (39% or 978,600) of people who attended Australian Rules football matches did so one or two times during the 12 months prior to interview. A further 34% (868,400) attended this sport on six or more occasions.

The next most attended sport from the four selected football codes was Rugby League. Over two-fifths (44% or 648,600 ) of people attended Rugby League matches one or two times during the reference period and a further 29% attended three to five times.

Of those people who attended Rugby Union, more than half (55% or 375,800) attended one or two times during the 12 month period and a further 27% attended three to five times.

Over two-fifths (42% or 236,400) people attended soccer (outdoor) matches one or two times in the 12 month period and over a third (34% or 188,000) attended six or more times.

Out of the four selected football codes, Rugby Union and Rugby League had the highest number of people who attended matches one or two times during the 12 months prior to interview (55% and 44% respectively. Both Australian Rules football and soccer (outdoor) had the highest number of people who attended matches on six or more occasions during the 12 months prior to interview (both 34%).

Frequency of attendance, Selected football codes - By sex

1-2 times
3-5 times
6 times or more
Total
Number
Frequency
Number
Frequency
Number
Frequency
Number
Frequency
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Males

Australian Rules football
559.8
36.9
415.9
27.4
539.7
35.6
1 515.5
100.0
Rugby League
397.5
42.1
273.1
28.9
273.1
28.9
943.8
100.0
Rugby Union
241.8
53.8
130.7
29.1
77.2
17.2
449.6
100.0
Soccer (outdoor)
135.1
38.8
82.1
23.5
131.4
37.7
348.6
100.0

Females

Australian Rules football
418.8
41.4
263.8
26.1
328.7
32.5
1 011.3
100.0
Rugby League
251.1
46.3
159.4
29.4
132.0
24.3
542.6
100.0
Rugby Union
134.0
57.7
50.2
21.6
48.1
20.7
232.4
100.0
Soccer (outdoor)
101.3
47.8
54.3
25.6
56.6
26.7
212.2
100.0

Persons

Australian Rules football
978.6
38.7
679.7
26.9
868.4
34.4
2 526.7
100.0
Rugby League
648.6
43.6
432.6
29.1
405.2
27.3
1 486.4
100.0
Rugby Union
375.8
55.1
180.9
26.5
125.3
18.4
682.0
100.0
Soccer (outdoor)
236.4
42.2
136.3
24.3
188.0
33.5
560.7
100.0




ENDNOTES

1. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal 2008, Football in Australia, Australian Government, Canberra. Accessed 17 April 2009, <http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/football>

2. Guttman, A 1993, 'The diffusion of sports and the problem of cultural imperialism' in Sport: Critical Concepts in Sociology, E Dunning and D Malcolm (eds), Taylor and Francis, London, pp. 343 - 356.

3. Dunning, E 1999, Sport Matters, Taylor and Francis, London.

4. Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) 2000, Info Plus: Approximately 250 million footballers worldwide, FIFA, Zurich. Accessed 17 April 2009, <http://web.archive.org/web/20060915133001/http://access.fifa.com/infoplus/IP-199_01E_big-count.pdf>


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