The demise of Australian sport: How low can the green and gold go?

They used to dominate the sporting landscape but, after another year to forget, they are now looking to Britain for advice

An infant 2013 was six days old when Mitchell Johnson pushed a delivery from Rangana Herath wide of point and hared down the Sydney Cricket Ground pitch to complete the winning run against Sri Lanka. At the other end was Mike Hussey, savouring his closing moments as an Australian cricketer. Hussey bowed out on a high, Test won, series won. Australia have not won a Test match since.

In three weeks they will try again, Australia's last hope of salvaging something from a sporting year that has scraped the barrel. It has truly been an annus bloody horribilis. On Saturday their rugby union players will step out on the Twickenham turf with a similar mission, and accompanied by as little expectation as their cricketing cousins. They have already been labelled the worst Wallabies in 30 years.

Back home the Socceroos can offer the ample consolation of having qualified for next summer's World Cup finals but so abject has been their form that the coach who took them there, the German Holger Osieck, has gone. They stumbled through what should have been a straightforward qualification, losing in Jordan, drawing twice with Oman and, after successive 6-0 defeats in Brazil and France, squat at No 57 in the world rankings, a point better off than Albania and looking up at Scotland, Wales and the Cape Verde Islands.

A month after Hussey shuffled off centre stage – not quite as happily as it seemed, it became clear later – came the "blackest day in Australian sporting history" with the publication of the Australian Crime Commission's shocking report into doping. The ramifications of its allegations of "widespread" doping in Australian Rules and rugby league are still not clear, and still being confronted by the sports and clubs in question.

Last Saturday when England rattled into a double-figure lead beneath the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium in the Rugby League World Cup – while in the same weekend across the Irish Sea in Dublin the traditional cross-code meeting of Ireland's Gaelic footballers and Australia's Rules players ended in record defeat for the visitors – it looked like the roof was well and truly ready to fall in on Australian sport. The Kangaroos, though, are made of sterner, if rustier, stuff and put the Poms back in their place – unlike Australia's netballers, one of the country's foremost sporting units, who managed to lose a first-ever series to England this year.

This month an Australian media outlet ran a tongue-in-cheek list of "15 things worse than our rugby team". It included "our cricket team". It is a mournful collection of failure that has led to much sporting navel-gazing from Perth to Sydney and Adelaide to Darwin. Last year the London Olympics were pretty much a disaster from start to finish for Australia, 13 years into a century that began with the Sydney Games at which the nation's sporting fettle had never been finer. They set the example that others, most notably Britain, admiringly looked to follow. A year before the Sydney Games the Wallabies won the World Cup, while the cricketers had the Ashes seemingly permanently stowed in their kitbag.

The Socceroos suffered back-to-back, 6-0 defeats at the hands of Brazil and France, above (Getty) The Socceroos suffered back-to-back, 6-0 defeats at the hands of Brazil and France, above (Getty)
A couple of weeks ago, the Australian Olympic Committee announced it was to look to the example of – and this must have caught in the throat – Britain in attempting to restore hope and glory for Rio 2016. "You are entitled to your disappointment," said John Coates, the man in charge of the AOC, in the wake of his men and women coming 10th in the medals table in 2012 with their worst gold medal return since 1988.

The AOC admits Olympic sport has "stagnated". Now they want Matt Favier, the man in charge of the Australian Institute of Sport, a body established in the wake of the failure to win a solitary medal at the 1976 Games, to play a "Clive Woodward role" in helping get Australian Olympians back on the right course. Favier had previously worked for UK Sport, which was instrumental in Britain's Olympic revival over the past decade.

Australia's failure to build on success is one Britain should take careful note of; the recent demotion of the role of the sports minister in the UK does not bode well in that direction. Down Under, complacency took its deceptively loose grip, in the swimming pool and elsewhere.

The 2000 Olympics were an important moment for Australia as a country. Sport did its bit to help the nation, and Sydney in particular, raise its prominence on the international stage but, post-Olympics, funding dwindled, and in Olympic sport money matters. A succession of the brightest minds were lured to better-rewarded posts abroad; Australian coaches guided foreign athletes to 14 gold medals in London. China's gold medal-winning swimmers Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang were both coached by Australians – well-rewarded Australians.

Rugby too does not have its financial troubles to seek. Sport is a crowded market place Down Under – Australia's ability, with its relatively small population, to compete at or around the top end of a multitude of sports remains remarkable (as, for that matter, has become Britain's) – and union is suffering. A lack of success on the pitch has only served to heighten troubles off it. The Wallabies arrived in the UK having agreed to a 23 per cent pay cut – according to their critics they should count themselves lucky it stopped there, after they won three of their 10 Tests this season, including a series defeat by the Lions, and conceding on average over 35 points per game to New Zealand and South Africa. They will now receive A$10,000 (£5,900) a game, down from A$13,100.

Jamie Roberts scores a try during the Lions' series win over the Wallabies (Getty) Jamie Roberts scores a try during the Lions' series win over the Wallabies (Getty)
The Lions tour will fill in some of the holes in the Australian Rugby Union's finances but not enough. In the last two years a deficit of A$19m has been accumulated. "From a financial perspective we are going to be skating on thin ice for the next couple of years," remarked Bill Pulver, chief executive of the ARU. "Can we get through? Yes, we can. Is it going to be bloody hard? Yes, it is."

Australian cricket will have its coffers replenished by the English invasion that accompanies an Ashes series. England's last visit culminated in the Argus Review into Australian cricket following the Alastair Cook-inspired hammering. Since its conclusion in 2011 little appears to have changed for the better. Australia have had three coaches since and in their last nine Tests fielded 22 players. The positions of Pat Howard and James Sutherland at the top of Cricket Australia will come under severe pressure should it all go koala-shaped again this winter.

Last month the Australian Cricketers' Association voiced its fears that there remains plenty wrong with the game, not least that CA is overly concerned with squeezing every last cent out of the Big Bash, the Twenty20 competition, rather than looking truly to improve standards among its players on the field.

Whatever the scaffolding carefully, or sometimes shoddily, erected by governing bodies around their playgrounds, sport will always retain a cyclical element. There can never be absolute certainty. Australia could win at Twickenham, Michael Clarke's dodgy back could hold out and Australia regain the Ashes, and the Kangaroos, with the brilliantly effervescent Billy Slater at their heart, may very well win the World Cup as the sporting wheel of fortune spins again. But in a country whose inhabitants are known to like a flutter, you would be brave to put your dollars on green and gold.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Sacha Baron Cohen is definitely not involved in the Freddie Mercury biopic, Brian May has confirmed
film
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
News
news
News
Boyband star Brian Harvey is on benefits and on the verge of homelessness
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor