When I was growing up in the U.S., on Saturday afternoons I enjoyed watching "ABC's Wide World of Sports." This "anthology" showed sports not typically found on U.S. television, such as surfing, track and field, figure skating, etc. Well, following sport (note the singular spelling) in Australia is very much like this...and I've become quite fascinated with all the variations. Some examples:
- Rugby League and Australian Rules Football. These are obviously types of football and the ones that most people associate with Australia. Rugby League (which is different from Rugby Union) is more popular in Queensland and New South Wales, whereas AFL (the name of the Aussie rules league) is popular in most of the rest of the country. Their seasons almost completely overlap, and they both have their Grand Finals this weekend in Sydney (the NRL) and Melbourne (the AFL). It's a little confusing following what's going on because of the strong regionalism of these two sports. Both have weekly television shows called "The Footy Show," which air at times most desirable for their respective regions. Both sports are called 'footy.' They both had fancy dinners recently in which the players received trophies and their wives/girlfriends paraded down the red carpet in fancy dresses. Years ago I went to see an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and loved it. I hope to see some more NRL and AFL in person during next year's season.
- Motorcycle and Auto Racing. There are all sorts of distinctions to be made here--Indy, V8, Supercars, Formula, 5 cc, etc., but I'm afraid that I'll never master them. Sure, the U.S. has its NASCAR in the southeast, but I think it's safe to say that Australians are even crazier about their racing here. A big Indy race is coming to the Gold Coast in just a few weeks, but I think we will be staying at home.
- Bowls. I had thought this was a quiet, genteel sport for the retired folks, as I often see elderly players clad in white when I drive by the local bowls club. But, it turns out that this is a competitive, lucrative, and popular sport all over the planet. I found myself mesmerized with a round of the World Cup of Bowls on the ABC recently. All the men were grossly out of shape, but they sure could bowl. It got particularly exciting when the jack rolled into the ditch, and Ireland ended up beating England. By the way, that "other" kind of bowling done indoors is known as "ten-pin bowling."
- Netball. Although this is played by both sexes, I have only seen women playing on television. Netball is like basketball, just without the dribbling. And the Aussie women who play are gorgeous.
- Swimming. Australians are much more obsessed with this sport than elsewhere--probably because they do so well at the Olympics in it. There are so many swimming celebrities around, they must have to fight for every PR event. For example, two of the ten celebrities on "Dancing With the Stars" this time around are Olympic swimmers (Elka Graham and Michael Klim).
- Horse Racing. This is big, big, big. Right now there's a horse flu epidemic going around the country that is shutting down most of the major races. I think I heard that horse racing is one of the top ten industries in this country (it has to do with all the betting).
- Marbles. Yes, that old school yard game is still popular here. A local watering hole is hosting some sort of Queensland state tournament that will be broadcast on television. I can't wait to see that one!
- Cricket. This is a summer sport, so it hasn't started here yet. As you probably know, many view cricket as the most boring game ever invented (see Bill Bryson's descriptions of it in "Sunburnt Country"). But others find it absolutely riveting. There have been several attempts to make it more appealing, with the latest incarnation called Twenty-20 Cricket, which can be played in just a couple of hours. Australia was recently beat by Zimbabwe in the Twenty-20 World Cup, much to the chagrin of the morning sport commentators who ended up saying this wasn't 'real' cricket.
- Hockey. That's field hockey for those of you in the icy climates. I haven't seen it being played, but I hear about it all the time. Perhaps it's more of a summer sport.