In short, Australians are "sports mad"! Sport is the real religion of the nation and it is also one of the factors that opened up Australia to the world. Sports like tennis or cricket, and sporting events such as the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, brought Australia to centre stage in the world and opened up travel for many young Australians. Sport contributed to Australia becoming less attached to Britain and more diverse.
The favourable climate in Australia is largely responsible for the great love of sport and the outdoors. Water sports play a large role and sailing is a favourite past-time in coastal areas. There has been an Australian entry in every America's Cup Challenge since 1967 and in 1983, Australia II was the first foreign yacht to take the cup away since 1851. The annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race is one of the most competitive ocean races and yachts from all over the world take part. Surfing has a huge following in Australia and Australian surfers are among the world's best. Aussies have won 16 of the last 30 World Surf Chanpionships with the likes of Mark Richards, Damien Hardman, and Tom Carroll. Swimming is also one the country's favourite sports and triathlons are attracting an ever increasing following. While the Iron Man and Iron Woman competitions are famous.
With the great outdoors at the back door for Australians, bushwalking, horse riding, fishing, and other activities are extremely popular. In November, the Melbourne Cup horse race literally stops the whole nation as everything and everone comes to a stand still to watch the country's greatest race. On this day, every business has a television set up, there are millions of sweepstakes and race parties in every town or city, housewives book tickets for race luncheons, and just about every Australian who never normally gambles, will take a punt. Horses that win the Melbourne Cup reach hero status in a race that carries $4 million AUD in 2001. Horse racing is the "Sport of Kings".
When it comes to motor racing, Australia hosts some of the world's greatest races. The first race of the Formula 1 season is in Melbourne and Melbourne also hosts the World 500cc Championships at Phillip Island. On the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise provides a fabulous backdrop for the Indy race. Australians have also proven themselves as world competitors. Sir Jack Brabham won the World Formula 1 Championship in 1959, 1960, and 1966. Mick Doohan won five consecutive World 500cc Championship titles from 1994 to 1998 and Troy Corser won the World Superbike Championships in 1996. Despite all this, the favourite motor sport by far in Australia is the Australian V8 Touring Car Championships. The two major participants, Ford and General Motors Holden, have a cult following, even by those who don't normally follow motor racing. The championship finishes with the Bathurst 1000 on the Mount Panorama circuit which has an enormous following of its own.
Tennis and cricket are two of the most popular sports in Australia. Australians have produced many tennis champions, winning 27 Davis Cups. Australians are still at the forefront with players like Pat Rafter, Mark Philipoussis, Leyton Hewitt, and the "two Woodies". The first Australian cricket club was at Melbourne and it is now the largest sporting club in the country where membership is concerned. The highlight of the cricket calendar would be the Ashes Test Series between England and Australia.
It is football, however, that is the favourite sport of Australians.
Rugby League is the number one sport in Queensland and New South Wales, and Australia is the current World Cup holder. Australia is the most successful team in the world, winning the World Cup 9 out of the last 12. Rugby League finals attract crowds of 100,000. The highlight is the State of Origin series between Queensland and New South Wales. It is a best of three match series held every year. The first series was held in 1980 with Queensland winning 13 of the 22 titles. This competition is everything to many people from these two states, with State Of Origin fever hitting on the day of a game. Walk into a bank and see your manager in the state guernsey or go to the local supermarket with its state colour co-ordination. This happens three times a year when the cane toads (Queensland maroons) and the cockroaches (New South Wales blues) clash. Rugby League is a rough game and players don't wear all the padding you find in other football codes.
In the south of the country, Australian Rules football is the favourite and crowds of 100,000 at games are common. This game is unique in the world.
Rugby Union football is now played by more than 100 countries and in Australia it is most popular in Queensland and New South Wales again.
Australia has more than 120 national sporting organisations with about a third of the population being registered participants of sporting clubs, etc. This number doesn't include those taking part in sports like bushwalking, fishing, gymnasium fitness, etc. Australians are not only regular participants, though, but also very enthusiastic watchers.