SPORT is a central aspect of Australian culture but will it continue to hold such a prominent place in society?
Ex-Wallaby turned journalist, Peter FitzSimons, told me his concerns for the future of Australian sport. Mr Fitzsimons doesn’t devour sport like a main meal, rather he sees it as the salt and pepper of life. “I worry on many levels at once that sport in many ways has lost its romance. And I think that sports administration in the future has to look at, how do I put this, working out how sport can keep its magic.“
The Australian Cricket team is an example of a sporting body that certainly appears to have lost its magic. During the current tour of India, four players were stood down, including vice captain Shane Watson and paceman James Pattinson, for failing to deliver a presentation on what they could bring to the team during the next test. For a cricket team that is greatly under-performing, having lost the previous two tests against India, these actions seem rather severe. Coach Mickey Arthur and captain Michael Clarke appear to be taking a hard line on their players, who are desperately needed if Australia has a chance of winning the third test.
Mr FitzSimons suggested the romance in sport was getting lost behind the serious side of the game. “They (the administrators) can’t get themselves lost in ‘It’s a serious serious business.” he said. “They must always remember that at its very heart what they are presenting is a game and therefore the players have to take joy in that game, the spectators have to take joy in that game.”
Western Bulldogs midfielder, Liam Picken, recently told the Herald Sun “AFL is very serious now. When Dad played, the game was full of characters,” he said. “Dad was working full-time – he’d go to training after work and play on the weekends. They had heaps of fun when they were playing. Now it’s very cutthroat, very serious, I suppose. On the footy field, you’ve got to be focused.” Sport has undergone significant change since the 1970’s when Picken’s father, Bill, was playing for Collingwood. Being an elite athlete is now considered a full time job. It certainly comes with the price tag too; according to the AFL the average player earned $251,559 last year.
Commercial agreements and television rights have seen sports expand in size and popularity. But will the money continue to flow? Or will it curtail at some point?
Mr FitzSimons thinks the money will eventually run out as the last main surge came through paid television. Paid television has had a profound effect on they way we consume sports. Rugby union can thank the success of Super Rugby for its inception into professional sport. Fox Sports first broadcast the league in 1996 as Super 12; it now contains 15 teams spread throughout three countries.
Furthermore the internet now allows sports to be instantaneously broadcast from anywhere in the world. “The internet’s changed everything but I think that the money that sport gets from television, paid television I suspect will come under attack in years to come and I can’t see anywhere where they’ll get another serge in money like they have.”
However, Mr FitzSimons said rugby union currently appears disaffected with tickets to the British and Irish Lions tour selling out in less than 15 minutes. Tickets to the Australian tour to be held between June and July across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane sold for up to $295 each.
“They’re parting big bucks there but I expect we won’t continue to see the exponential growth.” he said.
One of the major challenges sport faces in the future is to ensure it expands. Rugby league and union are heavily supported in NSW and QLD, whereas the AFL is dominated by Victoria teams.
“I think the challenge for the AFL is to move out of Melbourne (and) to not be so heavily Melbourne-centric. The challenge for Sydney is equally the same, is not to be so Sydney-centric for rugby league.” said Mr FitzSimons. “Rugby league needs to have presence. Ideally they’d have a presence in Perth the way they once did and they’d continue to grow to bring in different markets.”
Cricket has successfully distributed its presence throughout Australia. There is an Australian domestic cricket side in each Australia state, with the exception of the two territories. However the ACT and the NT both have cricket-governing bodies and have teams that play at lower levels.
To ensure to future of sport in Australia, sporting codes and organisations must ensure that fans and players get enjoyment out of the game.