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Why is Australia so good at sport?

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 11 August 2021

In the wide world of sport, why is it Australia continues to do so well despite having a relatively small population?

In this article, I will offer some positive reasons to explain Australia's ongoing international sporting success to counter some of the more recent negative analysis of the Australian sporting experience.

For example, Colin Tatz, then an ANU Visiting Professor in Politics and International Relations, argued in 2017 that Australia only excels at a few sports with little international competition, that "we have lost our swimming mojo", and that interest in sport is only short lived and ends once the result is known, in contrast to the enduring nature of great literature, art, and music where "each viewing or hearing gets better".


But he is wrong. As of 2021, Australia remains a major sporting power with sport also playing an important part of the Australian social fabric as a force for good.

In terms of results, Australia's swimmers alone won 21 medals (nine golds) at the recent Tokyo Olympic Games (OG) while the entire team won 46 medals (17 golds) to be the sixth most successful nation.

In athletics, Australia only won three medals yet finished 10th when points are awarded for top eight positions from 8 to 1, thus finishing ahead of much larger Western European countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

At Tokyo, Australia continued to express its prowess in sports such as basketball, hockey, rowing and cycling to a lesser extent, as well as win medals in the new sports long attractive to our youngsters such as skateboarding and surfing.

Outside of the OG, many Australian footballers and basketballers continue to earn high income playing in overseas leagues, our cyclists finished third and fourth in the last two Tour of France races (Richie Porte 2020 and Ben O'Connor 2021), and our professional golf and tennis players continue to do well with Ash Barty winning the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon in 2021.

I cannot list all of Australia's recent sporting achievements here, but a 2018 list of top sporting nations based on the 55 biggest global sports, ranked Australia fifth best in the world behind the US, France, UK and Spain, regardless of population.


We have long been recognised as a sporting power with the US magazine Sports Illustrated (April 1962) rating Australia the best sporting nationon a population basis when surveying the sporting prowess of 35 countries.

So why does Australia continue to do so well?

First, it is fair to say that the love of sport comes from our competitive British roots, but that Australia's evolving commitment to international sporting success since is not merely as Tatz argues the promotion "of a warrior nation: tough, rugged, aggressive, competitive, resilient, essentially manly and matey" with this mentality evident "in every major war since 1899, and in every modern Olympics since 1896".

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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All articles by Chris Lewis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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