Australians in general and Queenslanders in particular are famed the world over for their love of sport. It’s as much a part of the local psyche today in 2019 as it has ever been. But for those who spent their formative years cheering on the Brisbane Bears in the 1990s, the types of sport that now hit the tops of the charts could come as a surprise.
Of course Queenslanders still love their footy. But while AFL is the top sport in Australia, it is ranked only third in Queensland. In part, that could be down to the Lions’ lack of form over the past decade or so. The latest betting odds have them as an 8/1 shot to win the regular season, and if they can somehow manage to overhaul Geelong, it will certainly give the sport a boost. However, there is also the fact that free-to-air coverage is poor compared with other sports and leagues. There is the perception among Queensland sports fans that the AFL is packed full of southern teams, and they would sooner look elsewhere to see local talent in action, on free to view TV.
It doesn’t get more local than the Queensland Cup. From a national perspective, this is essentially a second tier rugby league tournament, yet it commands significantly higher TV audiences, regularly attracting viewing figures of around 120,000 compared with perhaps 80,000 for an AFL fixture.
The most popular spectator sport of them all is NRL. Queensland and New South Wales have always been seen as NRL strongholds versus the other states in which AFL has precedence. But the real surprise is that AFL has been beaten down into third place in Queensland. There is clearly more going on here than form. None of Queensland’s three NRL teams look likely to threaten the top half of the table, yet this does not deter thousands of Queenslanders from tuning in every week.
Are viewing figures really the best guide to a sport’s popularity, though? A report published in 2013 suggested that there are 1.18 million golfers across Australia, representing a little over six percent of the adult population. However, in Queensland especially, it also showed that golf club membership is in decline – confirmation, perhaps, that the sport is not doing enough to shake off its image as being a pastime for retirees.
Soccer, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Here’s a sport that kids love and that is simple to get into. After all, what more do you really need than a ball costing a dollar or two? There are more than two million soccer players across Australia, but most significantly, participation is at a staggering 48.7 percent among those in the 6-13 age group.
There’s one sport that is even more popular than all of these, though. Given the warm Queensland climate and the beautiful beaches, it should be no surprise that swimming is the top participation sport of all. There are more than three million Australians who swim regularly, and there is no more popular pastime on the Gold Coast.