Has Australian Sports Sleeping Giant Been Awoken?

Over the past six to twelve months it seems that the sleeping giant of Australian sport, football (or as some still call it soccer), has been awoken and she is hungry for an audience.618487-weekend-sport-crowds

This was never more evident than this past weekend when the ‘new boys’ of the A-League competition played in, and won, the first semi-final in front of a sold out Parramatta stadium crowd of 19,369 delirious fans.

A-league v NRLThe overwhelming support that the team in their debut season, despite being given little chance of success and according to The Australian “many predicted they would take the wooden spoon”, can be clearly seen in the photographs in this article and with a specific focus on NSW and the battle for crowds between the A-League and the NRL.

When we look at the coverage of this battle between codes a pattern of sport becoming almost a religion to some people. A phenomenon Nasya Bahfen explored in ‘Bridging Codes: Football and Islam in Western Sydney’, whilst the focus of her article relates to how Muslims react to the conflicts they face in terms of their religion and passion for AFL, we can use it develop an understanding of the powerful grip both religion and sport hold on people and how these lines can blur.

As Hasem El Masri said on ‘Bridging Codes’ “sport unifies people” and for me this is where the blurring of the lines between religion and sport occurs, especially in a sport like football. The unprecedented surge in popularity of football, which has its roots seated in European and South American culture compared to rugby league which is very much Anglo-Saxon Australian based, has created a situation in Australia where different cultures are now coming together to support a team despite their many differences.

If we look at the photo of the Wanderers crowd we can see this melting pot of cultures very clearly. A very basic level of image analysis, using Helen Caple’s methodologies, of the photographs chosen for this article suggests that they all capture a “critical moment”, which carries “historical weight, emotion” and displays the “cultural power” of sport. These images carry all of these values because in my opinion they have captured the “moment” that football has taken over as the dominant sport within NSW.

789843-manly-cowboysCrowd numbers already support this especially in Western Sydney where both the Wanderers (A-League) and Tigers (NRL) have 20,000-seat capacity home grounds in Parramatta and Campbelltown respectively, only the Wanderers are achieving sell-out fixtures compared to the Tigers struggling to fill half of their stadium.

Whilst there is still some aspects that need improving, such as TV audience numbers as pointed out by The Roar the A-League draws “close to 80,000 viewers per game” compared to the NRL and AFL’s “more than 170,000”, before the A-League can be officially pronounced top dog. However this could change next year with the introduction of live A-League matches on SBS free-to-air television.

The foreseeable future for the A-League is bright and tipped for more growth with the planned introduction of the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) Cup, which would include more than 600 teams from all levels of football around the country. The plan is for this tournament to begin around this time next year and run all through winter, ensuring football remains in the media year round, with A-League clubs to join in September and the final to be played on Australia Day each year (News.com.au).

In my opinion there will be no stopping football from surging to the top of the pack of Australian sport given the participation rates of children in junior football being almost double that of rugby league, thirteen percent and seven percent respectively (ABS). Therefore unless there is a drastic change in the future we could be witnessing the downfall of rugby league and the rise of football right before our eyes.

References and Further Reading:


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