Consider yourself a sports fan? Think Australia is sports-mad – and that we love it more than other nations?
If you do, Gold Logie-winning TV host Waleed Aly thinks you are wrong.
Aly – co-host of Network Ten’s The Project – is himself a keen sports fan as a passionate supporter of AFL club Richmond, NRL outfit Melbourne Storm and English Premier League giant Liverpool.
But he also feels it is a “myth” that Australians are uniquely good at sport, and more passionate than other countries.
Speaking to The New Daily, Aly said: “I just think we mistake our reliance on sport to tell Australian stories for a love of sport that isn’t replicated elsewhere.
“What I’m saying is we love our sport … [but] there are other countries that love it just as much, but those countries don’t need sport in the way we do in order to describe who we are.”
Despite his view, Aly does believe that Melbourne is the sporting capital of the world – a title Victorians are all too happy to boast about.
But he said it is not due to the city’s obsession with sport – more the stadiums.
“As I’ve travelled around the world, I realised how rare it is to have a sporting precinct like Melbourne in the heart of the city,” he said.
“If you go to London, Wembley’s not in the heart of London. Yankee Stadium isn’t in Manhattan [and] Flushing Meadows is way out. And so is Wimbledon.
“To have Rod Laver Arena, the MCG, even AAMI Park in that precinct, [it] is really rare and it’s right on your doorstep to the city.”
Aly expanded on his thoughts about Australia’s passion for sport, and what it says about who we are, in an oration at the recently completed Sports Writers Festival in Melbourne.
And to illustrate his point about how other nations are just as passionate about sport, if not more, Aly referred to the viewing figures for this year’s Super Bowl, compared with the AFL and NRL grand finals.
“This new Super Bowl had more than a 170 million viewers in the US, this is country with a population of 323 million,” he said during his speech.
“That is roughly 53 per cent of the population watching it. We don’t get anywhere near that.
“If we were to add up the [viewing figures for] the AFL and NRL grand finals, which would be an unfair thing to do because you can watch both – we don’t get anywhere near that.
“We might get to about eight million in a country rapidly approaching 25 million.
“We don’t watch sport in the kinds of numbers that we seem to think we do … Americans watch and participate in sport in large numbers, they support it in local levels more than what we do.”
Aly also said Australians are “not as good at sport as we think”, given the way other nations have developed over the years.
“On a per capita basis we’re good [at sport], on a GDP basis we’re probably about average,” he explained.
“We’re really good at sports that nobody else plays, that’s our history.
“If you look at swimming and tennis, [we are] experiencing a really barren period in tennis now, we have for a long time. We are nowhere near as strong in swimming as we’d like to be.
“The thing that really changed in those sports is that other countries have started playing them.”
And while Aly feels Australia’s love for sport is overshadowed by those in the United States, he did acknowledge that we have used sport to define our national identity – largely because of the nation’s short history.