Australia’s most popular sports are being underfunded because of a disproportionate emphasis on elite Olympic events, a Central News data investigation into financing and participation shows.

Sports such as football, the most popular team sport in the country, still attract far less funding from the Australian Government’s Investment Allocation than sailing, rowing, cycling and hockey.

An AusPlay report found over 2 million adults and children play football as of October last year. In all sports, it was only beaten by individual activities swimming, with approximately 5 million, and athletics, 4 million.

Hockey, despite only having 308,700 participants according to AusPlay, received $2 million more in funding than the $5,741,000 football received in the past financial year, whilst sailing received almost double the amount, and over $12 million was given to cycling.

Vince Rugari, a sports reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, said government funding towards sport was unfairly skewed towards Olympic events where Australia had a strong chance at gaining medals.

“The reason for the discrepancy is the Australian Sporting Commission’s funding model which prioritises sports in which Australia is deemed to be a strong Olympic medal chance,” he said.

“That model disregards sports like football which, as we’ve seen through recent men’s and women’s World Cup campaigns, creates such incredible cultural moments, even though our national teams haven’t ended up lifting the trophy.”


Australia embraced the national women’s team, the Matildas, last year during the Women’s World Cup, where Australia reached the semi-finals and attendance records were smashed. Yet football in Australia still struggles for its fair share of support and funding from the government, with a lack of facilities at all levels, whilst the domestic game is in financial turmoil with little government assistance.

By contrast, winter sports received over $6 million in government funding, whilst paddle sports received $9 million, and rowing $12.8 million, well over double the amount received by football.

The disparity in funding is further reinforced in the below graph, which pits participation numbers against the amount of government funding.



Isobel Cootes, women’s football reporter for Optus Sport, said the stats were clear evidence of the imbalance of funding football receives.

“Football has historically been underfunded in Australia and continues to unfairly be,” she said.

“Even as participation numbers continue to climb post-Women’s World Cup, federal, state, and local governments continue to underfund the code.”

It also spreads to the lower levels of the sport. Cootes said this impacted the domestic game, in both the amateur and professional level, with multiple A-League clubs going through financial crises in recent years.

“After an event that injected more than $1 billion into the Australian economy, community clubs across the country are still struggling to find space for growing numbers as a result of ‘Matildas’ Mania’, and state and territory governments are unwilling to aid a handout to ensure A-League sides Canberra United and the Newcastle Jets’ futures,” she said.

“The APL is ultimately responsible for those two leagues, but we do see other codes successfully lobby government agencies for funding to prop up their professional leagues. So why is that funding less free flowing in football’s direction?”

It is a question made more glaring in the wake of the Matildas growing success. Two of their matches at the tournament became the most watched sports broadcasts in Australia since 2001, according to OzTAM data.

A study from Deakin University estimated 64 per cent of Australians watched the Matildas’ semi-final against England.



Rugari believes football has a greater benefit to the country than some sports lavishly funded by the government.

“There needs to be recognition of how that contributes to the country rather than just going for medal sports that nobody is really interested in outside of the Olympics,” he said.

“If the Socceroos and Matildas received better high-performance funding, which helped them compete even better on the world stage, or one day actually contend for the World Cup, the return for the nation in terms of these intangibles would be many times greater than the impact of an Aussie winning gold in the sailing at the Olympics.”

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold criticised the Federal Government in October, claiming “the prime minister and the governments love coming out to watch the Matildas and the Socceroos with scarves on — but they must lose them when they go home”.

Rugari agreed with the sentiment, adding: “We need better stadia, better grassroots facilities and more fields. But do we have politicians who are prepared to meet this need?

“Politicians love to bask in the glory of football but when it comes time to support the game financially they are nowhere to be seen.”

There have been some positive developments in recent times: The Matildas now have their own state-of-the-art training base in Melbourne, and in August last year, the Albanese government pledged $200 million to women’s sport in the afterglow of the World Cup.

However, Cootes bemoaned the fact the funding doesn’t target the Matildas and football despite their role in bringing women’s sport to the forefront, saying it is reminiscent of a similar situation in England.

“When the Lionesses asked for money to increase girls football programs in UK schools, it seemed too good to be true and it was, with politicians jumping on the back of the popularity of a team’s success for brownie points with veiled promises,” she said. 

It wasn’t women’s sport that united the country in 2023 – it was women’s football, but they are forced to share the benefits. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the frustrations football continues to face on an institutional level in Australia.

“Any funding heading towards women’s football in Australia is fantastic, but given the impact of last year’s World Cup and the cries for help coming from local clubs this season – who can’t keep up with registrations and demand due to facility limitations – it seems it would have been best placed solely in football and additional funding made available for other sporting codes.”

Rugari said the issue is a perfect example of the institutional roadblocks facing Australian football.

“It wasn’t women’s sport that united the country in 2023 – it was women’s football, but they are forced to share the benefits,” he added. “It’s a perfect encapsulation of the frustrations football continues to face on an institutional level in Australia.”

In the meantime, most A-League women’s players need to take a second job to support themselves, and clubs still lack adequate facilities. An ABC report found Leichhardt Oval – home ground of the successful Sydney FC – lacked gender neutral changerooms, meaning players had to get changed in tents outside the ground.

Main image by Harley Appezzato/Front Page Football.