Australian revival may be exaggerated, survey suggests

Compare and contrast: ASC’s survey found out that cricket contributed to only 562,669 combined senior and junior club sport participants as opposed to soccer’s tally of 1,086,986 © Getty Images

Australian cricket has been warned it may not be the grassroots participation powerhouse it thinks it is, via the release of the most comprehensive national survey yet of sport down under.

The Australian Sports Commission’s inaugural AusPlay survey, released on Thursday, contradicted Cricket Australia’s own assertion that the game is the No. 1 participation sport in the country, and by quite a margin. A more accurate description, according to the ASC’s figures, would be to place it in mid-table.

While CA’s own Australian Cricket Census had stated that the game can point to 1.31 million total participants, the ASC survey delivered a far lower tally – 562,669 combined senior and junior club sport participants, placing cricket sixth out of the top 10 sports.

It was well behind soccer’s 1,086,986 club participants, and also returned inferior figures to golf, AFL, netball and tennis. Ironically, the survey’s results were announced in a media event at the SCG on Thursday, with soccer’s top brass trumpeting the outcome. CA’s executive and directors were preoccupied with a board meeting at the game’s Jolimont headquarters.

CA’s own participation figures are weighted to include the school-age Milo Into Cricket and Twenty20 Blast programs, with high female participation and increased engagement by diverse Australian communities cited as notable positives in recent years.

However the CA chief executive James Sutherland has admitted previously that there is a need to ensure more junior participants graduate to club teams and a more formal relationship with the game. Interestingly, CA’s own club participation figure for this year was 454,657 – lower than the ASC’s.

“It’s a lot about that experience and about creating a positive learning environment and a fun environment for kids to play the sport,” Sutherland had said in August when CA’s figures were released. “I think that’s where the T20 Blast has allowed kids to bridge between entry level programs and playing what some people might call ‘real cricket’.

“We’ve seen success but also sustained participation through into the teenage years. Very pleasing in these results to see growth in that area for the first time in a couple of years.”

Most major Australian sports have tended to downplay each other’s participation figures, arguing either that the numbers are too generously weighted towards junior programs or that the figures are gleaned through processes that are not sufficiently independent. The AusPlay survey has been designed to provide a more definitive picture.

“The Australian Government’s investment in AusPlay means we will now have a deeper understanding of the sport and physical activity behaviours of our nation,” the ASC chairman John Wylie said. “The AusPlay survey will report every six months and provide up-to-date information about trends in sport and physical activity participation that will guide key decisions in this area.”

Responding to the release of the survey, a CA spokesperson said: “The AusPlay survey fills a major gap in national sport and recreation data. We welcome the contribution this data will make to drive the ambition we share with the Government to increase participation. “We welcome that the survey again affirms Cricket’s place in the top tier of Australia’s leading participation sports and look forward to using the insights it provides to further grow Cricket participation.

“However, it is important to note that school participation is presently omitted from the survey report. School participation is one of the key pillars of our participation framework and an area where Cricket has been enormously successful in recent years. We would welcome the inclusion of school participation in future AusPlay surveys to ensure it reflects an even broader participation footprint.”

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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