Australians also like to view the Olympic medal tally in terms of medals won per capita, which regularly puts them at the top of the developed country rankings (but behind sprint supremo countries such as Barbados). And in tennis, Australia has always punched above its weight and in Rod Laver boasts the only player in modern times to twice win a grand slam in a single year.
Not surprisingly, sport is a big business in Australia. According to the latest statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian households spent around 1.5% of their household budget on sports and recreation products in 2009-10, a total of A$8.3 billion (US$7.3 billion). Total income for sport and recreational activities industries in 2011-12 was A$12.8 billion, with an operating profit margin of 9.5%.
The professional sports teams generate over A$10 billion a year in revenue and this is reflected in the sky-rocketing (for Australia) value of TV rights for major events. In 2012, the country’s own variety of football sport, called Australian Rules, which attracts millions of viewers, received some A$1.25 billion for the rights to broadcast its games over the period 2012-16, while the rights for the national Rugby League went for A$1.025 billion over the same period. The rights to televise the Australian men’s cricket matches were sold for A$450 million for a period of five years.
And it is not just in expenditure on attending sports events and buying sports gear where Australians excel. It is often said that Australians will bet on anything, including two flies crawling up a wall. Turnover in the sports gambling industry in Australia was estimated to be some Aus$4.5 billion in 2013. Horseracing is one of the most followed sports in Australia, with major events such as the Melbourne Cup, the Perth Cup and the Brisbane carnival attracting global attention.
Sport has environmental implications too, in physical planning, energy use, watering cricket pitches and the like. One sure bet is that managing these effects will become an important consideration in the years ahead.
*Anthony Cox, an Australian, is deputy director in the OECD Environment Directorate. Colleague and fellow Australian Shayne MacLachlan also contributed.