Australia has neither a de jure (written into law) nor a de facto (commonly assumed but not written into law) official national sport. For a nation steeped in sporting tradition there is many sports in contention to take the mantle, but which sports have made the biggest contribution to Australian culture and identifies with Australian values and thus might be the most suitable candidate to be our official national sport? Matt Hogan investigates.

Most countries that choose a de jure national sport do so to honour the tradition and heritage of the nation. Quite often they are sports that are unique to or were at least were invented in the country and thus are part of the nation’s story. They are not always the most popular nor the most participated in sports, for instance, in Argentina the de jure sport is pato, Mexico’s is charreria and Brazil’s is capoeira.

Surf lifesaving's unique contribution to Australia makes it a contender for the national sport. Photo: Dan Townsend / flickr / CC BY-NC

One such sport that is giving a lot back to the Australian community is surf lifesaving, a competitive surf sport that officially began in 1907 in Bondi. The sport evolved from the training activities of lifesavers and is seen as a unique Australian version of the Ironman events. Events in surf lifesaving include ocean swimming, beach running and paddle boarding. There are also other events like the surf boat races and mock rescues.

Bondi Surf Lifesaving spokesperson Maite Chusan says it would be “huge” for the sport to be recognised.

“The fact it’s a volunteer organisation that provides an invaluable service to society and everyone can feel safe at patrolled beaches because of the work that the lifeguards put in … I actually don’t know why it isn’t already Australia’s national sport.”

Surf lifesaving currently teaches beach awareness to school children in coastal communities and runs programs to bring children from rural communities to the beach and train them in beach protocols and basic surf skills.

In Canada, both a summer sport and winter sport are recognised as national sports – lacrosse and ice hockey respectively – because it is seen as fair to recognise sports from the distinctively different seasons. It is possible that Australia could recognise both a coastal and a rural sport to represent different ways of life in the same land.

Campdrafting is a unique Australian rodeo-style sport involving a horse and rider working cattle. The drover cuts out one beast from a heard of cattle and controls it around a type of obstacle course. This sport was developed in Queensland among the stockmen and drovers but the first official event was held in Tenterfield in 1885.

Campdraft is another uniquely Australian sport, and one that pays homage to our agricultural roots. Photo: Ian Sanderson / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Australia holds its colonial heritage with much prestige and to honour Australia’s own outback sport could be fitting. It would draw attention and pride to rural Australia and it might encourage the city slickers to learn more about the history and importance of Australia’s agricultural roots.

Countries that have de facto national sports such as the US (baseball), India (field hockey), Japan (Sumo) and England (cricket) have bestowed the title through media and the natural course of custom in their respective countries.

Australian rules football developed in the late 1850s in Victoria. As the name suggests, it is a game unique to our shores and is immensely popular in most parts of our beloved land. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Aussie rules is more than twice as popular in participation rates for men than any other football code. It also is also the most attended and highest revenue-earning sport. It qualifies as our nomination for a de facto national sport over the other football codes for these reasons.

Despite its popularity, it would be controversial to pick one of the football codes out for special consideration over the others and might possibly cause friction among the public and the different codes. Aussie rules has always been popular in the southern and western states but it has only recently infiltrated the hearts of New South Welshmen and Queenslanders who prefer other football codes.

Cricket has been played in Australia for over two hundred years. The game was developed in England and was played between the colonies as early as 1803, so its no surprise that cricket has blossomed to be our premier summer sport. The first Australian tour to England was an all-Indigenous team in 1868. In 1882, a famous victory by Australia began one of the most famous sporting rivalries between Australia and England, the Ashes.

Cricket has also spawned some of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes including Don Bradman, Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee. Cricket mounts a strong case, but it is already the de facto national sport of England and the West Indies.

There are many more sports in contention including swimming, cycling and surfing (to name a few) and perhaps that’s the problem, according to government spokesman Andrew Blow. “We are such a multicultural and diverse country, the idea that any one sport could accurately represent all Australians is a tough call.”

However Mr Blow was unsure of the government’s official stance and whether it would consider the idea of discussing the topic.