It was British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Such a quote would not be amiss in the boardrooms of many football associations around the globe.
Yet football in Australia has been booming in terms of participation, there is no need to lie about this. The Australian Bureau of statistics has said that football is the most played sport in Australia. Now a Roy Morgan Research Poll backs up these statistics with a survey carried out in 2016 in which it established that football had 623,000 ‘regular participants.’ It topped the list beating Golf which was second with 621,000 regular participants.
For fans of the world game who get sick of the disproportionate amount of media coverage the AFL receives, they will be pleased to know that AFL came in 8th with 253,000 regular participants, down 1% on numbers from 2001. Cricket, arguably Australia’s national sport was 5th, and despite the success of T20 cricket has seen its participation numbers drop 10% since 2001 to 377,000.
The interesting thing about these figures is that in 2015 Football West’s annual report stopped listing their registered player numbers and instead reported a loose figure of participants.
“Never before have we had so many people engaged in our sport, whether through playing, watching or talking about the world game. Football remains the most popular sport in WA with more than 200,000 participants involved in one form or another.” Wrote Chairman Liam Twigger in his review of the year.
Sadly a copy of the 2016 Annual Report is not available on Football West’s new website. Neither could we find a copy available online. Yet as revealed in our article “It Doesn’t Add Up” Football West claimed to have 228,000 participants on their State Football Centre website. A site/page that has since been taken down; we printed a copy of it!
However if we take these figures as being accurate, that Western Australia has over 200,000 regular participants in the game that means that this one state has 32% of those playing the game in Australia living in WA.
That seems a very high percentage for the country’s fourth most populated city. Sydney and Melbourne are double the size of Perth and with the outlying areas of New South Wales, such as the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley you would expect New South Wales to contribute a very high proportion of those “regular participants”
Football New South Wales are however worse than Football West in terms of making their annual report available, their most recent one on their website is from 2014! In that the CEO claimed that they Like Football West had a loose figure of “nearly 300,000 participants.”
Now taking into account that participation numbers in football rise globally in a World Cup year and the year following a World Cup, 2016 should have seen those figures drop. That is the regular trend. In 2017 they should start to rise again as the World cup qualifiers become more important. So instead of making the contribution of WA and NSW around 500,000 regular participants we worked with a figure of 450,000. That would still mean that these two states contribute 72% of the 623,000 regular participants. Is that believable?
There is a bit of a trend with the various State Bodies as Football Victoria’s latest Annual Report on their website is the one from 2015; 2016 has not been uploaded. However Football Victoria give an accurate number of registered players participating the game in their state, 62,133, and a rise of 13% on the previous year. They also report that this growth “was nearly double NSW and the national average of 7% and more than triple QLD of 3%”
These figures alone, if they are correct, and as they are very specific one tends to believe that they must be. The numbers claimed by New South Wales and Western Australia have to be plucked out of the sky. What is clear is they need to qualify a participant?
This anomaly in reporting participants raises the question why is it that not all States are reporting participation numbers in a uniform way, and a quantifiable way accurately based on registered players? Sure, there are rival competitions run outside the auspices of the various State Bodies and the FFA, but are they counting these as well? If so then break the figures down.
There should be a uniform measure, and all reports should be structured in a way that each and every state can be compared by those similar barometers. The FFA was created to tighten up Governance of the game, but these simple statistics show that no one is monitoring or controlling the governance at a state level. It appears that it really is each state for themselves.
It also proves that the figures given in Annual reports need to be questioned and then backed up with facts by the powers that be.