Australia's most popular sports: Which are the most famous sports in Australia?

Australia's most popular sports: Which are the most famous sports in Australia?

Ciku Njuguna
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:19 PM

Australia has a rich sporting history. Over the years, the country has seen an increase in sports attendance and viewership. What is Australia's most popular sport, and how does it rank up in numbers in terms of viewership, recognition, participation and attendance?

Is rugby popular in Australia?
Australia's rugby powerhouse, the Wallabies, compete for the 2022 Rugby Championship against the Springboks at Allianz Stadium in September 2022 in Sydney. Photo by Cameron Spencer.
Source: Getty Images

What is the major sport played in Australia? Stick around and find out which sports take the cake in one of the sportiest countries in the world. The Land Down Under holds various global championships, such as the Rugby Union World Cup, FIH Hockey World Cup, and Cricket 50 over ODI World Cup. The country that has been regarded as a sports-mad nation, developed its own sport, Aussie Rules Football.

The Land Down Under is home to sports such as Aussie Rules football, cricket, motor cross, basketball, soccer, tennis, rugby, hockey, golf, and water polo. The country also hosts popular annual sporting events such as the Victoria Derby and the Grand Prix. Here is a list of Australia's top 5 most popular sports based on their viewership, recognition, participation and attendance.

Does Australia have a water polo team?
Team Australia takes part in the Women's Classification match against team Netherlands at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre in August 2021 in Japan. Photo by Atsushi Tomura.
Source: Getty Images

5. Tennis

In 2005, a health study in the country found that over 1.3 million men and women enjoyed tennis competitively and as a recreational sport. Tennis Australia organizes five annual pro tournaments in the lead-up to the Australian Open, one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. In addition, efforts by the sport's governing body, through programs such as Cardio Tennis, the National Ballkid program, Hot Shots Community Play, and tennis for inclusion and diversity, have increased the popularity of tennis in the country over time.

4. Soccer

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Australia. The sport that completely differs from Aussie Rules Football is played by approximately 2 million people in the country.

How many people watch soccer in Australia? Over 3.4 million people tuned in to watch the World Cup and cheer for their country, alongside tens of thousands of Socceroo fans who flocked to various venues to watch live matches. Unfortunately, match attendance for soccer matches has steadily declined from one of the highest attendance records of 1.9 million in 2018/19 to 2022/23's 901,275.

3. Australian Rules Football

Footy is a contact sport played by eighteen players per team and played in played on cricket ovals. It is a unique form of football with roots traceable from early Rugby and Gaelic football.

The Australian Football League that governs Aussie rules has 18 teams from all six states in the country. There are over 25,770 Australian rules football teams, with an overall participation of more than 1.4 million players.

What is special about Australian Rules Football?
Aussie rules players compete in a round nine AFLW match between the Richmond Tigers and the Sydney Giants in October 2022 in Mildura. Photo by Morgan Hancock/AFL Photos.
Source: Getty Images

2. Rugby League

Rugby is one of the most popular contact sports, played by 15 players per team. The Rugby League attracts over 3 million spectators annually to its stadiums, with an estimated 100 million viewers on television.

The Rugby League, which is bigger than Rugby Union in the country, began in 1895 when the country split away from the English-controlled Rugby Football Union. The defiant origins of the sport have been suggested as the main reason why Rugby League is so popular in Australia.

1. Cricket

Cricket is regarded as a beach or backyard sport and is played both competitively and leisurely in the country. It is estimated that more than 1.3 million people play the sport, which makes it the only sport with the biggest participation in the country

Cricket is regarded as the one true national sport of the Land Down Under. In a report by Austadiums, the sport had the highest attendance in the last 90 days (as of December 2022) when over 90,000 fans attended a T20 cricket game between India and Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

Does Australia have the strongest cricket team?
Pakistani (right) and Indian fans (left) show their support during the ICC T20 World Cup match at Melbourne Cricket Ground in October 2022 in Melbourne. Photo by Daniel Pockett-ICC and Quinn Rooney.
Source: Getty Images

What sport has the highest number of spectator attendance in Australia?

The record for the highest-attended sporting event was held by the 2006 Victoria horse racing derby. The derby, which was held at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse, was at 108% capacity with a crowd of about 129 thousand attendees.

The Victoria horse racing Derby, also known as the Penfolds Victoria Derby, is an annual event held on the first day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. The 2500 m race serves as the headline act on the first day of the Melbourne Cup.

In second place is the 2022 F1 Grand Prix main race, which was held on the 10th of April 2022, and had an attendance of about 128,000. The event held at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit recorded the highest number of attendees compared to previous years. The four-day Grand Prix had an attendance of over four hundred thousand fans.

Who was the 2022 Australian Grand Prix winner?
An aerial view of the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit during the qualifying race ahead of the F1 Grand Prix in April 2022 in Melbourne. Photo by Clive Mason.
Source: Getty Images

Most recently, a recent report by Goal revealed that the November 22nd World Cup match between France and the Socceroos was watched on TV by over 3.4 million people. In addition, over 1.7 million fans watched the 3rd December World Cup match between the Socceroos and Argentina on television and digital media.

However, Rugby League was the most-watched sport in Australia in 2022, with an estimated 118.9 million viewers cumulatively over the season and an average of 620,000 viewers per game. The 2022 AFL season had an estimated average audience of 537,000 views per game and a total estimate of 106.2 million views in the entire season.

What do they call rugby in Australia?
Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies celebrates following the team's victory at the International Test match against France at Suncorp Stadium in July 2021 in Brisbane. Photo by Kelly Defina.
Source: Getty Images

Swimming is undoubtedly a big sport in the Land Down Under, especially with school-going children. It is estimated that approximately 3 million teenagers are involved in the sport. It is estimated that 1.5 million children aged 14 years and below participated in organized swimming events out of school.

Australia is one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world. However, although it is estimated that over 3.43 million people ride bikes annually for transport or recreation, a report by the National Cycling Participation Survey, suggested that the sport is on a decline compared to previous years.

Both Australia and New Zealand have had success on the international stage in rugby and cricket. The Aussies have won the rugby world cup twice, while New Zealand has won the competition thrice.

What is the number 1 sport in Australia?
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (top) of the Wallabies wins the lineout during the International Test match against France at Suncorp Stadium in July 2021 in Brisbane. Photo by Albert Perez.
Source: Getty Images

As one of the country's best at cricket, the Land Down Under has had five cricket World Cup victories. Although they are yet to win their first world cup, the New Zealand cricket team have been the runners-up in the previous two World Cups.

Australia has a diverse sporting culture. Although cricket has become Australia's most popular sport, numerous sporting activities such as athletics, golf, netball, surfing, touch football, and martial arts have a significant fanbase and viewership in the country.

READ ALSO: Who is Graham Arnold, the Australian head coach, heading into this World Cup?

Sportsbrief recently published a report about one of the most influential sports personalities in Australia. Meet Graham Arnold, the head coach who led the Socceroos to Round 16 of the 2022 Qatar World Cup tournaments.

Click on the link above to discover more about the 1986 NSL Player of the Year, who appeared in Australia's 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns.

Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.