A big increase in the number of people playing soccer in Australia over the past three years has led to claims the game can soon become the biggest in the country.
Cricket, AFL and soccer all make claim to be Australia’s top participation sport, depending on the interpretation of the data. New analysis by sports research group Gemba says that 1.96 million are now playing soccer, up from 1.7 million in 2009-10, an increase of around 15 per cent in the past three years.
David Gallop, chief executive of the FFA, believes that after decades of false starts, the game is finally getting its act together on and off the pitch.
If the number of people interested in the sport, included fans, are counted, the numbers climb to 3.1 million. Photo: Cameron Spencer
“Today, the powerful idea that football could become Australia’s biggest and most popular sport is no longer just a dream. Football is a game on the move. Our best years are still ahead of us.
“Football is now entrenched in the mainstream of Australian society. We are now an authentic Australian sport, with a broad, diverse following and a national spread that no other sport can match.”
The research says that there are 960,000 people involved in organised soccer, which comes under FFA jurisdiction. Another one million are recorded as being involved in unorganised soccer – in schools, corporate games, indoor futsal centres and other informal set-ups around the country.
The research says that there are 960,000 people involved in organised soccer, which comes under FFA jurisdiction.
If the number of people interested in the sport – not just as a player, but as a coach, referee or fan – are included, the numbers climb to 3.1 million.
Where soccer scores is that, like cricket, it is a genuinely national code. Australian Rules and rugby league tend to be very strong in their heartland – the southern states in the former’s code, the northern states in the latter’s – but, proportionately, fall away when they leave their strongholds.
The growth of the A-League in the past few years has clearly helped, and with it being shown on free-to-air television channel SBS for the first time this year , officials are hoping for a further lift in numbers. The coverage of the English Premiership and European and South American leagues on pay-TV, as well as the plethora of product available through streaming on the internet, increases the opportunities for those with an interest in the game to follow it.
© 2013 The Age | This article was written by Michael Lynch and first appeared in The Age on 12 November 2013.