Are Aussies the best sports people in the world?
If you has to pick one nation on the planet that excels more than any other at sport in general on a pound-for-pound basis – Australia would have to be up there for consideration for the top spot.
This is particularly true for a number of reasons but mainly because of the relative size of the country. With a population of a mere 23.7 million according to the latest 2014 estimate from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia ranks as the world’s 51st largest country. Yet in the London Olympics of 2012, for example, the country came tenth in the overall Olympics medals table.
And bear in mind, too, that this was a somewhat disappointing performance. In the Beijing summer Olympic Games of four years earlier, Australia finished in sixth place. And even this was two places further down the list than the 2004 Olympic Games of Athens, when Australia managed an incredible fourth place.
This was exactly the same overall finishing position as four years before that when, of course, the country hosted the Millennium Olympic Games in Sydney. And when a country hosts the games, it tends to fare a lot better as the whole sports programme of the country gears up to host the event for the six previous years or so. In other words, we might have expected a peak at Sydney and the preceding and following games tend to benefit, too.
This was certainly the case with the UK and the London Olympics; Great Britain was already gearing up for the event in a big way by the time the Beijing Olympics came about – and managed a very creditable fourth place before going one better in London with third; an incredibly good performance for a country of 64 million people.
And finally – to look back to the two summer Olympics before that in 1996 in Atlanta and 1992 in Barcelona, Australia finished in seventh and tenth place, respectively.
Now of course, the summer Olympics aren’t everything but they are probably the single best indicator of sport as whole and if you log the medals table against population – Australia do the best on the whole.
Australia are particularly famed for their swimming prowess of course and in the all-time swimming medals table for the Olympics Games, rank second in the world with only the USA beating them. So when you bear in mind that for every potential swimming star in Australia, there are 13.5 in the USA with that many times the population figures – it’s fair to conclude that the Australians are the greatest swimmers on the planet on a pound-for-pound basis.
But where it gets really interesting is when you consider the relative minority sports that so many Aussies go in for that the rest of the world either doesn’t play at all or doesn’t take too seriously.
Chief among these, of course, is aussie rules football. This is an incredibly popular sport Down Under which is virtually unknown in the rest of the world. But it’s a huge sport in Australia – in so many ways.
Like other minority sports in Australia, betting on the sport is big business and the latest Aussie rules betting odds are keenly scrutinised by millions of fans each week. The same can be said for other mass participatory sports, including both codes of rugby, football, cricket and several others – and wherever the Aussies play sport, you’ll find a gambling market of equal measure. In fact, it’s often this aspect of life that gives you a real indicator of the relative importance of any particular sport in Australia – with the obvious anomaly being horse racing and the Melbourne Cup in particular – which is a simply enormous occasion. In fact, the day is even a national holiday in its native Victoria State.
Anyway – the point is well-made; Australians devote a lot of time to some sports which barely register on the international sporting Richter scale.
And in sports where just a few countries take it seriously, including Australia – they still tend to do pretty well. In rugby league, for example, Australia are largely dominant and have won 10 rugby league World Cups out of a possible 14 since the event was inaugurated back in 1954.
Similarly, in rugby union – there’s only really New Zealand that can claim historical superiority over Australia. Australia have won two from a possible seven rugby union World Cups since that event was introduced in 1987 – and have been runners-up to England on one occasion in 2003 (when Australia were also the host nation).
In cricket, meanwhile, Australia can lay claim to being the greatest side in the history of the sport – having won four from a possible ten cricket World Cups – more than any other nation, whilst in the footballing world, The Socceroos are getting steadily stronger on the international stage.
|Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke|
If you had to pick one sport where Australia has tried and largely failed to date, though, then football would surely be it. But remember that in many other developed countries in the world and particularly in Western Europe and in Latin America football is close to a religion it’s so big. This isn’t the case in Australia – but it’s gradually becoming more popular and if all the other sports Australia plays in a big way are anything to go by – the Socceroos side will get steadily stronger.
But it would have to be the summer Olympics we’d come back to if you were looking for absolute statistical “proof”. And in this sphere – no other country really comes close to Australia on a long-term basis and if we discount the former eastern bloc countries’ performance during the Soviet era as somewhat “iffy” due to performance enhancing drugs etc.
Interestingly, though, if there’s one nation that comes close to – or perhaps even exceeds that of Australia – it’s neighbours and fierce traditional rivals New Zealand. The All Blacks certainly hold sway at rugby union, while New Zealand’s rugby league team come pretty close and they have very creditable Olympics performance finishing 15th, 25th and 24th in the last three summer Olympic Games respectively. And when you consider that the population of New Zealand is just over 4.5 million which puts the country in 123rd place in the overall population rankings – that’s no mean feat.
But please don’t say that to any Aussies – because they certainly won’t like it!