Broughto’s Blog
Mar 03

Rugby League Is it the game for all Aussies ?

Demographics of Australia and the impact on Rugby League  Is it a game for all Aussies?

Part A.

The latest Census data submitted here, is with the conviction that the National Rugby League (NRL) should consider these defining facts that demonstrate the fast changing face of the Australian nation.

Further, that the ARLC consider an Asia/China Rugby League Engagement Policy because rugby league must always be viewed as a sport that attracts a universal audience, and keeping an eye on demographics is vital- the statistical data relating to our population, changes, and on policy development and economic research.

ABS demography director Anthony Grubb said that the latest population estimates were the first to include data on natural increase (births minus deaths), internal and overseas migration. “It is now possible to not only see how much population is changing in an area but to understand why this change is occurring”.

Political commentator George Megalogenis said “the typical Australian resident would most likely be a young, female, a Chinese student or a migrant worker…The two biggest migrant groups in Australia are Chinese and Indians since the turn of the 21st century…So we’re getting an extraordinary number of Chinese and Indians from two countries that are actually rising. Since about 2005, we’re receiving more people from overseas than have been added to our population through natural increase, so more migrants than babies”.

So what does this mean for rugby league and all round interest and participation in our great game?

Well, our annual population growth currently sits at 1.6 per cent, which is slightly higher than a global growth of 1.2 per cent, and the highest of the G12 nations.

Immigrants make up the majority of this increase, with statistics showing overseas arrivals account for 62 per cent of our population growth.

Our newest overseas Australians mostly come from China, who account for around 16 per cent of new arrivals. Indians and Filipinos also make up a sizeable number of the intake. This means that, statistically speaking, our 25 millionth Australian resident is less likely to be baby Harley or Mercedes, and more likely to be an immigrant, foreign worker or international student flying into Sydney Airport.

This showcases Australia’s diversity in the 21st century. The business community stresses the need for skilled workers, and universities need high fee paying international students. Rugby league needs to bring all Australians to the game…somehow, players…fans…sponsors…supporters…viewers… administrators.

A living example of one city’s demographics and its effect on sport

Auckland is the largest populated city in NZ and the impact of the Asian population, rising 25%, has impacted on the registered secondary school rugby numbers, which are down from 31000 in 2012, to 27000 in 2017. The latest figures confirm the decline. Auckland Blues performances have also been less than promising. However, Canterbury and Waikato registered numbers are up, but they have a small percentage of Asian migration. The numbers are indicative of the fast growing impact and population changes that can  affect the make-up of rugby leagues heartland…..the city of Sydney in a similar way.

An example of how this kind of situation was recognised and managed by the NFL in the USA to great advantage occurred some years ago. The NFL recognised that there was a large Latino population who were not engaged with their game, addressed the concern, and drew a whole new fan and sponsorship base to their sport. The radio and TV broadcasts in Spanish were greatly increased to a point where in 2013 Fox became the first Spanish language network in NFL history to broadcast a Superbowl.

I do not for one second equate Sydney and Australia and its Asian population with USA and Latinos, except to note that the percentages per population are nearly identical. According to the 2011 Census, Sydney was then home to almost half (46.6%) of the Chinese population by birth. The 2016 Census confirmed the continued growth of these percentages.

FACTS Today, around 28 per cent of persons living in Australia were born overseas with 54 Ethnic minorities and people born in non-English speaking countries have been identified as more likely to have lower participation rates in sport and physical activity and evidenced in reports by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare,  KPMG, Impact of Demographic Change: The Future of Sports Participation in Australia , Australian Bureau of Statistics, Migration, The Future of Sports Participation in Australia and the Future of Sport in Australia Assessment and findings.

There are a number of other potential barriers to migrant participation in our sport, associated with cultural differences. Although language is perhaps the most significant barrier, migrants may also have cultural preferences for spending leisure with family rather than in a public setting, and as such as participation in sport and physical activity is part of a broader issue associated with non-involvement in the broader community. Social background, gender and disability all have a strong influence on the nature of children’s early experiences. There is strong evidence to show that the scope and quality of early experiences of sport is determined by children’s social backgrounds, particularly in terms of social class and ethnicity. Children from middle-class backgrounds tend to dominate club sport, which is due in part to cultural traditions, but also the fact that participation requires adequate disposable income to pay for fees, equipment, transport and flexibility of parent work hours. The sporting community needs to consider the impact that demographic shifts will have, as firstly, it is more difficult to engage new migrants in sport at all. First generation migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds show low levels of participation. Secondly, their sporting preferences are unlikely to reflect traditional preference for rugby league. The projected mix of migrants are likely to be more interested in sports such as badminton, table tennis and soccer, which have stronger participation rates in Asia, in particular. There are great challenges here for social inclusion and also great opportunities for sport to contribute at a local community level.

To meet its potential to contribute to health and social inclusion and to take advantage of increased populations in these demographics rugby league as a national and international sport needs to actively work to meet the needs of migrant groups to a larger extent than it has done to date.

 At this point in time the Asian community does not watch, view, read about, listen to, play the game, nor show any commercial interest in rugby league in numbers.

We would be doing this wonderful game of rugby league a great disservice if we do not engage with this third of our population.


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