Australian rules football in Australia

Australian rules football is the most watched and attended sport and the second most participated code of football in Australia.

Australian rules football in Australia
Aboriginal football.jpg
Contesting for possession in an indigenous community football game in the Northern Territory
Governing bodyAustralian Football League
National team(s)Australia
First played1858; 164 years ago (1858) in Melbourne, Victoria
Registered players1,404,177 (total) (2016)[1]
National competitions
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match121,696Collingwood vs Carlton, at the MCG (1970 VFL Grand Final)
Season7,238,8582011 AFL season[2]

Since originating in Victoria in 1858 and spreading elsewhere from 1866, it has been played continuously in every Australian state since 1903 plus the two major territories since 1916.

The highest participation rates (players per capita) can be found in the Northern Territory (5%), South Australia (4.8%), Victoria (4.3%), Western Australia (4.2%) and Tasmania (3.3%). Unlike other football codes which are strongest in urban areas, Australian rules football has the highest participation in regional and remote areas. Nationally this rate is 5.7% almost double that of any other code. It is also fast growing in Queensland and New South Wales, though with participation rates of 1.3% and 1.1% respectively lags behind soccer and rugby league in overall interest. South Australia is the only state or territory where it is the most participated code of football.

The national professional competitions are the Australian Football League (men's) and AFL Women's. The AFL governs the code nationally through the AFL Commission. The AFL originated in Victoria and changed its name in 1990 after a successful program of national expansion.

While the AFL phased out state and territory representative matches as it expanded nationally (with the exception of occasional matches featuring Victoria), players can still represent their states up to the age of 19 through the AFL Under 16 Championships and AFL Under 19 Championships or through their lower tier (semi-professional) state competitions.

Australia competes internationally mainly against New Zealand. Australia's men's team is currently undefeated. The undeage men's team competes annually against New Zealand as the AFL Academy. Australia has also in the past fielded amateur teams against South Africa, Papua New Guinea and the United States but remains undefeated. Sides representing Indigenous Australia have competed against Papua New Guinea and South Africa.


Engraving of the first intercolonial football match between Victoria and South Australia at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1879
The first national interstate competition was held in 1908

It began in the Colony of Victoria in 1858, followed by the Colony of Queensland (1866)[3] and Colony of New South Wales (1877); Colony of South Australia (1877); Colony of Tasmania (1876); and, Colony of Western Australia (1881).

In 1879, the first intercolonial representative match took place in Melbourne between Victoria and South Australia.[citation needed]

Delegates representing the football associations of South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland met in 1883 in order to standardise the rules across the colonies. The earliest governing body, the Australasian Football Council (later Australian National Football Council) dates back to this time.

Following a hiatus in Queensland (1892-1903) and New South Wales (1893-1903) it was revived after the Federation of Australia and expanded to the territories of the Australian Capital Territory (1911) and the Northern Territory (1916).

In Australian popular cultureEdit



Football is the most highly attended spectator sport in Australia. Government figures show that more than 2.5 million people (16.8% of the population) attended games in 1999.[4] In 2005, a cumulative 6,283,788 people attended Australian Football League (AFL) premiership matches, a record for the competition.[5] A further 307,181 attended NAB Cup pre-season matches and 117,552 attended Regional Challenge pre-season practice matches around the country.[6] As of 2010, the AFL is one of only five professional sports leagues with an average attendance of over 30,000 per game.

As well as the AFL attendances, strong semi-professional state and local competitions also draw crowds. The South Australian SANFL drew an attendance in 2008 of 362,209 with an average of 3,773 per game, while the Western Australian WAFL drew an attendance of 219,205 with an average of 2,332 per game.


According to OzTAM, in recent years, the AFL Grand Final has reached the top five programs across the five biggest cities in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Australian rules football has achieved a #1 rating in the sports category in both 2004 and 2005.


A total of 1,404,176 registered participants are playing Australian football in 2016, placing it ahead of cricket (1,311,184 total participants) and soccer (1,188,911 total participants). Participation rose 12.5% between 2015 and 2016. 58,888 of all participants are from a non-English speaking origin.[7]

Structure and competitionsEdit

An Australian Football League match at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast. Adelaide's Matthew Clarke and Melbourne's Mark Jamar contest a centre bounce. The man in the green shirt is a central field umpire.

The most powerful organisation and competition within the game is the elite professional Australian Football League (AFL). The AFL is recognised by the Australian Sports Commission as being the National Sporting Organisation for Australian rules football. There are also seven state/territory-based organisations in Australia, most of which are affiliated to the AFL. Most of these hold annual semi-professional club competitions while the others oversee more than one league. Local semi-professional or amateur organizations and competitions are affiliated to their state leagues.

Region Overview Governing body Major competition(s)
  Australian Capital Territory Overview AFL NSW/ACT North East Australian Football League
AFL Canberra
  New South Wales Overview North East Australian Football League
Sydney AFL
  Northern Territory Overview AFL Northern Territory North East Australian Football League
Northern Territory Football League
  Queensland Overview AFL Queensland North East Australian Football League
Queensland Australian Football League
  South Australia Overview South Australian Football Commission South Australian National Football League
  Tasmania Overview AFL Tasmania Tasmanian Football League
  Victoria Overview AFL Victoria Victorian Football League
  Western Australia Overview West Australian Football Commission West Australian Football League

National championshipsEdit


The last senior national carnival was held in 1993 and the last match between interstate senior sides was held in 1999. Senior interstate competition is no longer contested by players from the Australian Football League. A one-off exhibition match featuring Victoria and a "dream team". However, the state leagues continue to compete in inter-league matches.

Under 18Edit

The AFL Under 18 Championships are the annual national Australian rules football championships for players aged 18 years or younger and includes teams from each Australian state or Territory. The competition is monitored by AFL recruiters and frequently seen as the second biggest pathway for junior players to the fully professional Australian Football League. The competition is currently sponsored by the National Australia Bank (NAB). The competition receives an increasing amount of coverage in the media, however still lags behind the TAC Cup in terms of interest in Victoria.

See alsoEdit


  • Blainey, Geoffrey (2010). A Game of Our Own: The Origins of Australian Football. Black Inc. ISBN 9781863954853.
  • Coventry, James (2015). Time and Space: The Tactics That Shaped Australian Rules and the Players and Coaches Who Mastered Them. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-7333-3369-9.
  • de Moore, Greg (2011). Tom Wills: First Wild Man of Australian Sport. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74237-598-4.
  • Hess, Rob (2008). A National Game: The History of Australian Rules Football. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-07089-3.
  • Hess, Rob; Lenkic, Brunette (2016). Play On! The Hidden History of Women's Australian Rules Football. Bonnier Zaffre. ISBN 9781760063160.
  • de Moore, Greg; Hess, Rob; Nicholson, Matthew; Stewart, Bob (2021). Australia's Game: The History of Australian Football. Hardie Grant Books. ISBN 9781-74379-657-3.
  • Hibbins, Gillian; Mancini, Anne (1987). Running with the Ball: Football's Foster Father. Lynedoch Publications. ISBN 978-0-7316-0481-4.
  • Hibbins, Gillian (2008). "Men of Purpose". In Weston, James (ed.). The Australian Game of Football: Since 1858. Geoff Slattery Publishing. pp. 31–45. ISBN 978-0-9803466-6-4.
  • Hibbins, Gillian (2013). "The Cambridge Connection: The English Origins of Australian Football". In Mangan, J. A. (ed.). The Cultural Bond: Sport, Empire, Society. Routledge. pp. 108–127. ISBN 9781135024376.
  • Nauright, John; Parrish, Charles (2012). Sports Around the World: History, Culture, and Practice. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843002.
  • Pennings, Mark (2012). Origins of Australian Football: Victoria's Early History: Volume 1: Amateur Heroes and the Rise of Clubs, 1858 to 1876. Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 9781921421471.
  • Pippos, Angela (2017). Breaking the Mould. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781925475296.
  • Williamson, John (2003). Bucknell, Mar (ed.). Football's Forgotten Tour: The Story of the British Australian Rules Venture of 1888. Applegate. ISBN 9780958101806.


  1. ^ a b "Women's participation soars in 2015".
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 May 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Brisbane Courier 25 May 1866
  4. ^ Sports Attendance, Australian Bureau of Statistics, April 1999.
  5. ^ "Aussie Rules sets attendance record". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 August 2005.
  6. ^ 403 Forbidden
  7. ^ Participation in Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey 2005 Annual Report Archived 21 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine