Sport in Rural and Regional Australia

Sport in Rural and Regional Australia   
Prepared by  Prepared by: Greg Blood, AIS Emeritus Researcher
evaluated by  Evaluation by:  Dr Russell Hoye, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Development) & Director La Trobe Sport, La Trobe University (April 2016) 
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: July 2017
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

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Sport plays an important role in rural, regional, and remote Australia. It can bring regional communities together; contribute positively to community identity and sense of place; promote social interaction and community inclusion; and play an important role in providing opportunities for physical activity and improved health outcomes. Additionally, rural and regional Australian centres are increasingly hosting sporting events that provide economic stimulus and instil a sense of community pride. 

Traditionally, these communities have also developed many of Australia's elite athletes due to their unique cultural characteristics and physical environments among other attributes.

Governments at all levels, sporting organisations, and individuals can benefit from understanding the unique role that sport can have in these communities in order to better develop opportunities and achieve future goals.  

Key Messages 


Sports participation in rural, remote, and regional Australian communities has been shown to improve social cohesion and population health outcomes.


Bidding for, and hosting, significant sporting events—individually or as part of a consortium of centres—is increasingly a strategy being used by regional councils to gain an economic stimulus and to raise the public profile of their communities.


Some regional centres have produced a disproportionately high number of Australia’s most successful elite athletes.


Many regional centres have access to government and community sponsored programs to support emerging elite athletes and investment in sports infrastructure.

The importance of sport, particularly in the early days of regional communities, is highlighted by the following quote:

After the general store, the pub and the cemetery, one of the first things established in many a fledgling Australian country town was a sporting facility. Commonly it was a racetrack, sometimes a footy ground or tennis court carved out of someone’s back paddock; if the climate was hot and there was ample water, possibly a pool. Good sports: sport - whatever the code, whichever the team - provides a rich backdrop to life in the bush, Burdon A, R.M. Williams Outback (Dec 2009/Jan 2010) 30–44

ABC's Backroads Television Series broadcast in late 2015 examined six rural and remote towns. Each program highlighted the importance of sport to the town.

Some rural communities in recent times have struggled due to drought, industry changes and population movements and this can lead to the merger or loss of sporting teams and a decline in facilities. To ensure that sport remains sustainable, many small Victorian towns have united their AFL and netball teams to make administration more efficient. Others, like Tumut, a NSW country town, introduced rugby league 9's to bring life again to rugby league. On the other hand there are regions that have encountered population growth and this has placed high demands on volunteers and facilities.

There have been several methods of defining rural, remote and regional Australia. Regional Development Australia has divided the Australia into 55 regions representing areas to coordinate economic development activity within state boundaries. These are not based on changes in population, but on shared economic development goals, such as agriculture and resource industries. Accessibility Remoteness Index of Australia Map (2006) breaks down Australia into five zones -major cities, inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote. Their research indicates:

  • one in five (20% or 4.3 million) people live in inner regional areas;
  • one in ten (9% or 2.1 million)) in outer regional areas; and
  • around one in forty (2.3%) live in remote or very remote areas - remote (1.5%-324,000); very remote (0.8% - 174,000). Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2010).

Characteristics of rural, remote and regional communities may include:

  • generally lower incomes;
  • reduced access to services such as health, education and transport;
  • declining or fluctuating employment opportunities;
  • declining populations due to industry changes;
  • distance and isolation;
  • significant proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and 
  • older populations.


There have been several national, state and sport specific reviews on the state of play regarding rural and regional sport. 

  • AFL Victoria. Review of Football in Country Victoria (PDF  - 2.5 MB), AFL Victoria (2011). Review found that country football needs to change its governance structures to provide greater strategic focus and investment of resources directly in regions. There were four major regions - Ballarat, Geelong, South East and Bendigo - with growth. These regions have strong population growth but there has been a decline in other regions. It found that AFL participation is not directly related to population growth but appears to be dependent on available resources, skills of administrators and coaches and the level of collaboration.
  • Review of Sport and Recreation in Regional Western Australia (PDF  - 1.4 MB), Watson P, Perth, Western Australian Government (2008). Report found that "sport and recreation are inextricably linked to the notion of ‘community sustainability’, something clearly understood by regional Western Australians. "Sport and recreation was identified as important in regional indigenous communities in promoting participation and in building capacity. It found that a booming economy resulted in difficulties in sourcing and retaining a range of specialist personnel e.g. aquatic and recreation centre managers, horticulturalists, sport development officers; in building sport and recreation facilities and the ability of community-based organisations to attract and retain volunteers. Solutions that were suggested included improved use of technology, developing ‘family friendly’ fixturing across sports and the development of alternative club structures to better harness the available volunteers.
  • Inquiry into Country Football - Final Report,  Submission and Government Response,  Victorian Parliament Rural and Regional Services Development Committee (2005). Report found that football was not in decline even though there had been club amalgamations and mergers since 1990. The major issue was the impact of population shifts and an ageing of the traditional volunteer base.  The Government’s response was centred on the long term sustainability of country football. Through the A Fairer Victoria policy new place-based approaches will support rural communities to overcome disadvantage caused by population decline, including greater investment in new and redeveloped services and infrastructure. 
  • Community sport counts: local sport and recreation in Victoria, Sport and Recreation Victoria, Melbourne, Dept. for Victorian Communities (2005). This series of summary reports provides information on the local sport and recreation scene in Victoria and identified the commonalities and differences between and within Victoria's regions. 
  • The status of sport in rural and regional Australia: literature, research and policy options (PDF  - 501 KB), Mugford S,  Canberra, Sport Industry Australia (2001). Comprehensive review of sport in rural and regional Australia. It provides a review of the literature and findings of an online survey. Report found that rural and regional Australia does not exist as a single, meaningful social entity – each area has its own structure and issues. Mugford’s conclusion was “Sport contributes to national identity and well-being. It is also a major source of social capital, especially in rural and regional Australia. However, it is precisely in rural and regional Australia that sport is in trouble - under-funded and declining because of the many difficulties faced by people and institutions in the country. Therefore we should actively support sport in rural and regional Australia and shore up sporting organisations so that they can continue to provide these important services to Australia”
  • Country sport report, Western Australian Sports Council, Perth (1987). Report identified the needs and priorities of country sport in Western Australia.  Outcomes included the poor dissemination of information throughout country areas, the need to strengthen sports councils at local and regional levels and the administration of grants by regional sports councils rather than Department of Sport and Recreation. The most notable issued raised was providing travel assistance to country areas.


There have been several major conferences that have examined issues related to rural and regional communities.

  • 2015 - Sport in Regional Australia. Hosted by Latrobe University
  • 2002 - Who's Looking After the Bush. Hosted by Central Queensland University and the Australian Sports Commission. Conference proceedings were published and focused on developing sport education opportunities in rural and regional Australia.
  • 1988 - Regional Sport and Regional Games Seminar. Hosted by Riverina-Murray Institute of Higher Education (now Charles Sturt University) and the Australian Sports Commission. Conference proceedings were published and examined issues such as regional games, talent development and participation. 

The Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio Structure of Australian Sport outlines the organisation of sport in Australia. Sport in rural and regional communities is a component of this structure and is serviced by state departments, state sporting organisations, clubs and local councils. 

State departments generally assist rural and regional sport through regional offices and academies, participation programs, travel assistance grants, sporting event grants and facility development programs 

Local councils play a major role in developing and managing sports facilities and occasionally supporting major sporting events. 

In rural and regional communities, state and local governments are primarily responsible for developing and maintaining sport facilities. The Australian Government has two programs that may assist:

  1. Community Development Grants Programme. Supports needed infrastructure that promotes stable, secure and viable local and regional economies.
  2. National Stronger Regions Fund. Funds priority infrastructure projects in local communities.

Clearinghouse for Sport Portfolios Sports Facility Planning and Use  and Participation Grants and Funding provide more detailed information. 

Reports and Plans

These reports and plans may assist in planning rural and regional sport facilities.

One of the stated aims of the National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework (2011) is to improve participation outcomes to targeted populations which includes rural and remote populations.  


  • Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation Survey 2011-12 (PDF  - 13.4 MB). Page 18 states “The regular participation rate in sport and physical recreation among persons living in capital cities was slightly higher than for those living in the balance of state/territory (26.5% and 23.9% respectively) (Table 16). In both geographic areas, regular participation was higher for females than for males (Figure 5 and Table 16). "
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Social Trends (2011). Stated that in 2009-10, there was no statistically significant difference in the sport or physical recreation participation rates between people living in major cities of Australia and those living in areas outside the major cities (64% compared with 62%). It found that people outside the major cities were more likely to participate in organised sport and physical recreation than those in living in major cities (28 % to 25 %). Sports that had higher participation rates outside the major cities included: horse riding, equestrian activities, polo, lawn bowls, touch football and Australian football. 
  • Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity 2011-12. The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides data on participation in physical activity across Australia. Extracted data includes:

Table 4.1 Males



Sufficiently Inactive

Sufficiently Active for Health

Total 18 years and over

Major Cities 1,043.2 2,033.2  2,799.7  5,962.5
Inner Regional Cities 457.3 548.7 604.1 1,625.5 
Outer Regional and Remote 203.7 258.2 346.3 818.2
Total 1,704.1 2,840. 3,750.0 8,406.3 

Table 4.1 Females



Sufficiently Inactive

Sufficiently Active for Health

Total 18 years and over

Major Cities 1,192.5 2,274.2  2,738.7  6,228.0
Inner Regional Cities 366.8 664.7 565.3   1,623.7
Outer Regional and Remote 200.2 297.0 279.1  784.2
Total 1,759.5 . 3,236.0 3,583.1 8,635.9


National Rural Health Alliance Inc's Fact Sheet on Physical activity in rural Australia (PDF  - 204 KB), (2011) summarised barriers to physical activity. These barriers include:

  • lack of time, confidence and motivation to engage in physical activity;
  • limited transport to sporting facilities and events;
  • limited number of sports facilities including heated swimming pools and commercial gymnasiums;
  • belief that ‘rural work’ provides sufficient physical activity so that it is not necessary to pursue physical activity during leisure hours;
  • lower socio-economic status resulting in inability to pay for sporting equipment and fees; and
  • reduced access to health professionals that encourage participation in physical activity.

Research papers include: 

  • VicHealth Research Practice Fellowship –Physical Activity Final report, March 2016 (PDF  - 2.14 MB), Eime, Rochelle. This research report examined participation trends for seven sports - Australian football, tennis, netball, basketball, cricket, hockey and bowls – played in Victoria. Findings related to rural and regional sports included:  males (10-14 years) from non-metropolitan areas had the highest participation rate ;  there was an increase in participation rate from 2010 to 2012 for non-metropolitan compared to metropolitan people ; non-metropolitan participation compared to metropolitan areas was higher during adolescence (14–18 years) and throughout mature adulthood (30+ years) ; rates of regular physical activity participation decreased as remoteness increased ; and the rate of participation for Australian football, cricket, netball, hockey, bowls and fishing was higher as geographical remoteness increased.
  • Environmental barriers and enablers to physical activity participation among rural adults: a qualitative study. Cleland  V et al. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, Volume 26,  Issue 2 (2015). This study explored the environmental factors that act as barriers or facilitators to physical activity participation among rural adults in three regions of rural Tasmania, Australia. It highlighted the importance of shared-use areas, particularly those that were family and dog-friendly. Participants had realistic expectations of what was feasible in rural settings.
  • Opportunities, Barriers, and Constraints To Physical Activity in Rural Queensland, Australia. Eley R, Bush R, Brown W, Journal of Physical Activity & Health Volume 11, Issue 1 (2014). Research in six diverse rural Queensland shires found that half the respondents failed to meet Australian physical activity guidelines and 1 in 5 reported no activity. Some barriers to physical activity (i.e. family commitments)  were similar to those from urban areas. Rural barriers included climate, culture of exercise, and community leadership. It was concluded that the promotion of healthy lifestyle in rural environments need to be tailored to the local community and not necessarily replicate urban programs.
  • Location, location, location: women’s leisure in rural Australia. Campbell A, Leisure Studies,  Volume 32, Issue 3 (2013). This paper investigated the impact of geographical location in shaping the leisure activities of rural women living in the Yass Valley Region of NSW. Research found that the specific geographical location had a strong impact on the types of leisure activities available in which they were able to participate. It concluded the specific geographical location can facilitate or inhibit the degree of involvement in community leisure activities that engender social capital among older women living in these locations.
  • ‘You're no-one if you're not a netball girl’: rural and regional adolescent girls’ negotiation of physically active identities.  Mooney A, Casey M, Smyth J, Annals of Leisure Research,  Volume 15,  Issue 1 (2012). This paper reported data collected through interviews and focus group sessions with 138 females ranging from 14 to 16 years of age across six rural and regional communities in the state of Victoria. It examined the impact that dominant discourse-power relations operating in the context of rural and regional sport and physical education can have in the negotiation of physically active identities for adolescent girls.
  • Building the health promotion capacity of sport and recreation organisations: A case study of Regional Sports Assemblies. Casey M, Payne W,  Eime R, Managing Leisure , Volume 14, Issue 2 (2009). This research examined the efficacy of a system-wide, capacity-building strategy implemented to enable sporting organisations to change from a narrow focus on sport to one encompassing health promotion. This involved evaluating a state-wide health promotion program funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and implemented within nine Regional Sports Assemblies (RSAs). Research found that health promotion was successfully adopted within sport and recreation environments. It noted the importance of understanding the nature of existing organisational resource dependencies and interdependencies.
  • Sustaining health promotion programs within sport and recreation organisations. Casey M, Payne W, Eime R, Brown S, Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, Volume 12, Issue 1 (2009). This study explored the factors affecting the sustainability of a sport- and recreation-based health promotion program. A stratified sampling method was used to select four of the nine Regional Sports Assemblies (RSAs) that delivered a state-wide health promotion program funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation in Australia. It found that sport and recreation organisations have potential to facilitate health promotion and public health. However, organisational processes, structures, and resources that support long-term health promotion practice need to be effective and efficient.
  • Examination of water safety in rural, remote and regional locations across Australia (PDF  - 1.5 MB), Australian Water Safety Council, Sydney (2005). Rural, remote and regional communities were identified as a priority area in the National Water Safety Plan 2004-07. The number of drowning deaths in rural, regional and remote locations is low compared to all drowning deaths but the rate is often higher than those living in metropolitan areas.
  • Playing their part: the role of physical activity and sport in sustaining the health and well being of small rural communities (PDF  - 275 KB), Townsend M, Moore J, Mahoney M, Rural and Remote Health, Volume 2, Issue 109 (2002). This research examined the links between physical activity and health in rural communities. It examined two small rural communities in Victoria and highlighted the role that physical activity and sport played in these communities in sustaining the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. The authors suggested that physical activity and sport can make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of rural people and their communities but further research was necessary.
  • Anthropometry, Fitness and Physical Activity of Urban and Rural South Australian   Children. Dollman J, Norton K, Tucker G, , Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 14, Issue 3 (2002) 297-312. Researchers compared urban and rural South Australian primary school children on measures of anthropometry, physical fitness and environmental mediators of physical activity. Rural children were more involved in organised activity, particularly club sport and reported a greater likelihood of participating in two or more physical education classes per week. It is evident that urban and rural South Australia differ in ways which impact on fitness and physical activity patterns of upper primary age children.
  • Fundamental movement skills - How do primary school children perform? The 'Move it Groove it' program in rural Australia. Van Beurden E, Zask A , Barnett  LM,  Dietrich UC, Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, Volume 5, Issue 3 (2002) 244-252. Child Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) underpin active lifestyles yet little is known of their distribution and mastery. 'Move it Groove it' project rated proficiency of primary school children in skills of balance, throw, catch, sprint, hop, kick, side gallop and jump. Research suggested that that there may be great potential to improve fundamental movement skills of primary aged children in many parts of rural Australia.

Programs and Practices

There are a limited number of published programs and practices designed to improve participation in rural and regional communities.

  • ActiveSmart (PDF  - 1.9 MB). Is a Western Australian Government program aimed at increasing physical activity levels and improving community connectedness. The program involved personalised communication through direct mail, telephone conversations and face-to-face delivery to householders. This report on the implementation of the program in the city of Geraldton suggests that ActiveSmart has had a sustainable impact on the community.
  • Community gyms a step by step guide for the establishment of not-for-profit community gyms in rural and regional South Australia (PDF  - 4.2 MB), One Eighty Sport and Leisure Solutions (2011). Resource provides relevant information, case studies, research and resource links to motivate and assist regional and rural communities throughout South Australia to consider a community gym as a means of providing alternative low cost physical activities.
  • Beach to Bush Program. This program is the largest educational initiative ever undertaken by surf life saving in Australia. It was the outcome of research conducted by Surf Life Saving Australia, which highlighted that 50% of people rescued from the surf lived more than 50km from the beach. The program has been running successfully in NSW since 1994 and went national in 2003.
  • Sport safety policies and practices in two rural Victorian communities, Casey  M, Finch CF, Mahoney M. Townsend M, Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, Volume 7, Issue 2 (2004). This exploratory study reported on the sport safety policies and practices adopted by junior Australian football and netball clubs in small rural communities. The authors found that critical factors influencing safety policies and practices were the reliance on volunteers and a lack of senior players. Barriers towards the adoption of safety policies and practices appeared to be related to rural population declines, a lack of qualified people and attitudes to injury in rural areas. 

There is limited research into sports injuries in rural and regional Austrealia.

  • Increasing trend in the frequency of sports injuries treated at an Australian regional hospital, Wong Shee, A, Clapperton A, Finch CF, Australian Journal of Rural Health, April (2016). Study examined data from the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit for one regional hospital for the financial years 2003/04 to 2011/12. Found that there were significant increases in both the number of sports injury hospital admissions and Emergency Department  presentations over time. The reasons for the increasing trends in sports injuries are likely to be multifaceted, including changes in the risk of injury, sports participation or data completeness/accuracy over time.
  • Rural v metro: geographical differences in sports injury hospital admissions across Victoria, Wong Shee, A, Clapperton A, Finch CF, Medical Journal of Australia, Volume 203, Issue 7 (2015).
    This study found there was a higher rate of sports injury hospital admissions for people residing in rural/regional compared to metropolitan areas. This could be due to a number of factors that are different for people residing in metropolitan areas: hospital administrative practices, health care accessibility, level/nature of sports injury risk, or sports participation levels.
  • Sport/leisure injury hospitalisation rates—Evidence for an excess burden in remote areas, Finch, CF, Boufous S, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 12, Issue 6 (2009). Examined the relationship between selected sociodemographic and geographic characteristics and the rate of sport/leisure hospitalisations across New South Wales.Found that residents from remote and very remote  had significantly higher hospitalisation rates than other parts of the state. The reasons for this finding were unclear but could include differences in sport/leisure infrastructure, participation levels and the provision of medical and allied health services across regions. 

Research highlights the fact that sport plays an important role in social cohesion in rural and regional communities. Local sporting clubs offer community interaction and the flow on benefits of social ties, social capital, social networks and a sense of belonging.

  • Warlpiri warriors: Australian Rules football in Central Australia, Mackinnon B, Campbell L, Sport in Society, Volume 15, Issue 7 (2012). Yuendumu, located in the Tanami desert of the Northern Territory, is home to the largest Warlpiri community in Australia. This study examined the role of Australian Rules football in this remote indigenous community.  Football in Yuendumu was revealed as a vehicle for social cohesion, group identity, pride and joy, and as an expression of manhood, enabling its young men to see themselves as modern-day Warlpiri warriors.
  • Competitive sport and the construction of place identity in rural Australia, Tonts M, Atherley K, Sport in Society, Volume 13, Issue 3 (2010). This paper explored the notion that competitive sport is a central component of Australian rural life. Through a case study of two rural communities in Western Australia, it demonstrated that sport does indeed contribute to the formation of place identity through diverse local and regional social interactions, practices and memories.
  • The glue that holds the community together? Sport and sustainability in rural Australia. Spaaij R. Sport in Society, Volume 12, Issue 9 (2009). This research examined the forms of social capital that are created in and through rural sport in northwest Victoria. It found that rural sport participants viewed local sport clubs as vital community hubs fostering social cohesion, local and regional identities and a shared focus and outlet. It found that structural changes in the region increased opportunities for other people, including young women, to take on leadership roles and to develop new skills and knowledge through sport participation.
  • Expanding social inclusion in community sports organizations: evidence from rural Australian Football clubs (PDF  - 598 KB), Frost L, Lightbody M,  Halabi A,  Monash University, Dept of Economics Discussion Paper, 31/13 (2013).  This paper utilised the evidence from the Parliament of Victoria’s Inquiry into Country Football (2004) to explore the current focus of rural Australian Football clubs regarding social inclusion, in the light of changes occurring in society in general and in rural towns in particular in the 21st century. It found that country football clubs have become more family friendly particularly with their merger with netball clubs. In addition, women are taking on leadership roles in this new environment. 
  • Sport, Localism and Social Capital in Rural Western Australia, Atherley K, Geographical Research, Volume 44, Issue 4 (2006). This paper examined elements of social capital through the activities and adaptive strategies of twenty-five sporting clubs from the wheatbelt region of Western Australia. It demonstrated "how sport is not only an important part of rural life but also an activity which plays an integral role in the formation of bonding and bridging social capital."
  • 'Sporting capital: Changes and challenges for rural communities in Victoria. Driscoll K, Wood L, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT (1999). This report represented a collaboration of six municipalities in South-West Victoria to identify how sport and recreation clubs are managing social and economic change. It found that service infrastructure that supports rural communities has been privatised, rationalised, downsized, regionalised, or removed altogether. These changes have resulted in a loss of social networks. Sports programs are perceived as a means of creating social capital that is critical for a rural town or community’s survival.  This report highlights the complex challenges faced by rural communities and recommends: 
    • That community and club experiences and resources can be best developed through ‘Community Activity Hubs’, which help to coordinate planning, fundraising, facility maintenance and management.
    • That sport can be used to support young people’s leadership opportunities in a number of non-playing roles - referees, administrators, coaches, trainers, etc.
    • That local and state governments need to improve equity in rural communities through grants for facilities; by addressing geographic considerations; and reducing the expenses of clubs.
    • There is a need to connect local, regional and state sports development programs.

For further information on this topic visit the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio Sport for Community Development.

The reported prevalence of mental illness and people with high levels of psychological distress in rural and regional communities have been found to be similar to those of people living in capital cities. [Source: Mental health in rural and remote Australia: fact sheet, National Rural Health Alliance (April 2015)]. There is limited research on mental health and sport in these communities.

  • Alive and Kicking Goals!: Preliminary Findings from a Kimberley Suicide Prevention Program, (PDF  - 234 KB), Tighe J, Mckay, K, Advances in Mental Health, Volume 10, Issue 3 (2012). Alive and Kicking Goals! (AKG) was a pilot program in the Kimberley, Western Australia that took an innovative approach to suicide prevention peer education. This region has high suicide rates in young indigenous males. Players from the Broome Saints Football Club undertook training in suicide prevention in order to become Peer Educators (PEs) for the Kimberley region.  At the conclusion of the pilot, 16 young men became PEs where they were equipped with practical skills in suicide awareness and prevention.  
  • Australian rural football club leaders as mental health advocates: an investigation of the impact of the Coach the Coach project, Pierce D, Siaw-Teng L, Dobell J, Anderson R, International Journal of Mental Health System, Volume 4 (2010). Reported on research on the 'Coach the Coach' program, in which Australian rural football clubs were the setting and football coaches the leaders in providing greater mental health awareness and capacity to support early help seeking behaviour among young males experiencing mental health difficulties, especially depression. It was found that more than 50% of trained club coaches showed increased capacity to recognise mental illness and 66% reported increased confidence to respond to mental health difficulties in others. The benefits to players through this program was less obvious.

Types of Events

Rural and regional communities have a long history of organising major sporting events. These events are important for social cohesion, identity and increasingly provide economic stimulus. Notable long standing regional events include:

  • Stawell Gift. Started in 1878, is a professional athletics meeting held during Easter at Stawell, Victoria. It is Australia's richest professional sprinting event.
  • Herald Sun Tour. Cycling event first held in 1952 and traverses different regions in Victoria. It is currently held in early February. 
  • Bathurst 1000. Held at Mount Panorama, Bathurst since 1963 and colloquially known as 'The Great Race' among motorsport fans and media.
  • Port Macquarie Ironman. Established in 1985 in NSW North Coast town of Port Macquarie. The event consists of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike course and 42.2 km run.
  • Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals. A series of carnivals consisting of track running, velodrome cycling and woodchopping held in towns in Northern Tasmania. Since the 1880’s they are held directly after Christmas Day and include the prestigious Burnie Gift.
  • Murray Valley Canoe Marathon. Began in 1969 when 10 friends decided to raise money for the Australian Red Cross. It starts in Yarrawonga, Victoria and finishes in Swan Hill, Victoria. The event is now held in late November.
  • Alice Springs Masters Games. Established in 1986. Several other regions have established their own Games and these include:  Maryborough Masters Games, Great Barrier Reef Masters Games, Lismore Workers Masters Games and Barellan Masters Games. The Australian Masters Games were held in Newcastle in 2001 and will be held in North West Tasmania 2017.

Several sports with rural origins host numerous events throughout Australia. These sports include: equestrian (show jumping, dressage, three-day event), polo, polocrosse, rodeo, campdrafting, tent pegging, endurance horse riding, woodchopping, shearing sports and sheep dog trials.

Major Australian sporting codes are also increasingly hosting events in rural and regional communities to promote their code. These include:

  • Australian Football League. Plays pre-season games in country areas and plays premiership games in Alice Springs and Cairns.
  • National Rugby League. Historically has played City v Country games and frequently holds NRL games.
  • Cricket Australia. Occasionally hold Sheffield Shield games and Alice Springs hosts their annual Impajra Cup
  • Australian Rugby Union. National Rugby Championship includes two country teams - New South Wales Country Eagles and Queensland Country and they play matches in regional cities.
  • Basketball Australia. NBL includes teams from Cairns, Townsville and Wollongong and WNBL includes teams from Townsville and Bendigo.
  • Football Federation of Australia. A-League includes teams from Newcastle and the Central Coast and W-League a team from Newcastle.

List of major sports events in rural and regional Australia [Wikipedia]

Australian Research

The increase in the number of events in rural and regional communities has led to research into their economic and social effectiveness.

  • On any Sunday. Mackellar J, Hahn C,  Australasian Leisure Management,  Volume 15, no 3 Jan/February (2015) 26-27. Griffith Institute for Tourism has established a database that includes events held in non-capital city areas in regional and rural Australia. It includes both amateur and professional sports competitions. In 2014, the database lists over 1,000 sport events. Running events were the most popular sporting event held. Authors noted whilst there are benefits in hosting events, planners should also be wary about the types of organisations they are dealing with and their ability to manage the inherent risks of holding sport events.
  • Assessing the contribution of a major cycle race to host communities in South Australia. Mackellar J, Jamieson N,  Leisure Studies, Volume 34, Issue 5 (2015) and Sport Tourism Events as Community Builders—How Social Capital Helps the “Locals” CopeJournal of Convention & Event Tourism, Volume 15,  Issue 1 (2014). These papers examined the process of event development and the impact upon social interactions in seven rural communities in the 2012 Tour Down Under cycling race in Australia. It explored the role of the Tour Down Under event in stimulating community interaction and social capital. A model of sport event development was utilised to explain the impact of the event development process on community relations in this rural context. It discussed the issues of managing the relationships between communities and event management.
  • When the spin stops…it’s more than a bike race : an exploratory study of the role of a sport tourism event, the Tour Down Under, in building social capital in rural South Australia, (PDF  - 4.5 MB), Jamison, NI, PhD Thesis, Lismore, Southern Cross University (2012). This thesis examined seven South Australian towns and the role a particular sport tourism event, cycling's Tour Down Under (TDU), played in building the social capital of the community involved. The author found that "this event, the TDU, contributed to the building of bonding social capital in the communities investigated but had a negligible effect on the bridging social capital". 
  • Events: Drivers of regional tourism – Summary August 2014, Austrade, Tourism Research Australia (2014). This summary provides brief information on regional events, particularly sport spectator events, as key potential events to drive tourism. 
  • World Rally Championship 2009: assessing the community impacts on a rural town in Australia. Mackellar J. Sport in Society, Volume 16, Issue 9 (2013). This paper examined the perceived social impacts of the 2009 World Rally Championship on the small community of Kyogle, NSW during the event's Australian stage. The results suggest that while the event was predominantly perceived to have benefited the community, community division was also identified as a significant issue, which provided negative publicity and management issues for the event organizer and the host government, and affected the continued management and location of the event.
  • Festival places : revitalising rural Australia , Gibson C,  Connell J  (eds), Bristol, UK , Channel View Publications (2011). This book examined how several festivals in Australian rural areas contribute to tourism, community and a rural sense of belonging. Specifically, it examined youth surfing carnivals.
  • Reinventing rural places: the extent and impact of festivals in rural and regional Australia (PDF  - 2.4 MB), Gibson C, Stewart A, Wollongong, University of Wollongong (2009). This Australian Research Council project examined festivals from 2005-2008 in rural and regional Australia through a database profile of festivals across three states (NSW, Victoria and Tasmania). Sport made up 36.5 % of festivals captured. Information was collected on job creation, volunteerism, marketing and advertising, environment and community. This research will assist those planning sporting events in rural and regional communities.
  • Achieving economic benefit at local events: a case study of a local sports event, Walo  M, Bull  A, Breen, H,  Journal of Festival Management and Event Tourism, Volume  4, Issue 3/4 (1996). This study investigated the economic benefit of a small special event - NCUSA Games held at Southern Cross University, Lismore, July 2-6, 1995. It found there was $392,719 as direct net income from the event. The use of existing facilities reduced costs and volunteers played a vital role. 
  • Organising sport in the Australian outback is DIFFERENT, Sparre K,  Play the Game 2007: Creating Coalitions for Good Governance in Sport (2007) p18. This brief article highlights difficulties in organising events in the bush particularly the role the environment plays. 

International Research

Rural and regional communities play an important role in developing high performance athletes. In the mid 2000’s, there was a thesis called ‘Wagga Effect’ named after Wagga Wagga NSW to describe cities that develop disproportionately large number of high performance athletes. Wagga Wagga Sporting Hall of Fame highlights the large number of athletes that it has developed. Damian Farrow argued that regional cities with certain population sizes produced a disproportionately high number of high performance athletes due to children having more space for play and sport, being exposed to a range of sports and often participating with adults due to limited number of competitions.

Examples of other regional cities that  have developed international high performance athletes include:

  • Mackay, Queensland– Cathy Freeman (Athletics), Geoff Huegill (Swimming), Linda McKenzie (Swimming),  Benita Johnson (Athletics), Nicole Pratt (Tennis), Sandra Brondello (Basketball).
  • Bendigo, Victoria - Kristi Harrower (Basketball), Sharelle McMahon (Netball), Glenn Saville (Basketball), Faith Leech (Swimming),  Billy Murdoch and Don Blackie (Cricket) 

Olympic swimmers that have been nurtured in rural and regional communities include: Terry Gathercole (Tallimba, NSW), David Thiele (Maryborough, Qld), Ian O'Brien (Wellington, NSW), Faith Leech (Bendigo, Vic), John Monckton (Armidale, NSW), Brad Cooper (Rockhampton), Michelle Pearson (Bundaberg, Qld), Linda Mackenzie (Mackay, Qld) ,Karen Phillips (Nowra, NSW), Duncan Armstrong (Rockhampton,Qld),  Matthew Dunn (Leeton, NSW), Clementine Stoney (Albury, NSW),  Petria Thomas (Mullumbimby, NSW), Adam Pine (Lismore, NSW), Hayden Stoeckel (Berri, SA) and Belinda Hocking (Wangaratta, VIC).

Hockey is a sport with many international representatives from rural and regional communities. The 2015 Kookaburras (Men) and Hockeyroos (Women) squads highlight this point.

Kookaburras - Matthew Gohdes (Rockhampton, Qld), Aran Zalewski (Margaret River, WA), Kieran Govers  (Wollongong, NSW), Blake Govers (Wollongong, NSW), Tim Deavin (Launceston, TAS), Jamie Dwyer (Rockhampton, Qld), Simon Orchard (Muswellbrook, NSW),
Kiel Brown (Toowoomba, Qld), Mark Knowles (Rockhampton, Qld), Matthew Swan (Mackay, Qld), Dylan Wotherspoon (Murwillumbah, NSW), Simon Orchard (Maitland, NSW), Glenn Turner (Goulburn, NSW), Fergus Kavanagh (Geraldton, WA)

Hockeyroos - Casey Sablowski (South Coast, NSW), Kristin Dwyer (Mackay, Qld), Teneal Attard (Mackay, Qld), Karri McMahon (Berri, SA), Georgie Parker (Berri, SA), Emily Smith (Crookwell, NSW), Ashlee Wells (Morwell, VIC), Kellie White (Crookwell, NSW), Gabrielle Nance (Kingscliff, NSW), Mariah Williams (Parkes, NSW), Georgina Morgan (Armidale, NSW).

These lists could also be developed for other major Olympic and Paralympic sports.


In 2010, an Australian Research Council Research Grant titled "Improving determinants of Australian sports talent identification and development: a multi-disciplinary approach" was awarded to investigate the issue of 'hot spots' in Australian sport raised by the 'Wagga effect' thesis. The Grant was managed by Griffith University and involved the Australian Football League, Australian Sports Commission, Australian Institute of Sport, Cricket Australia Centre of Excellence and Tennis Australia. This research involved investigating the role of regional and rural communities in talent development.  Research outcomes to date include:

  • Improving the identification & development of Australia’s sporting talent (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Toohey K, Funk D, Woolcock G, MacMahon C, Hahn A, Auld C, Farrow D, Bauman A, Weissensteiner J and Gulbin J, Australian Research Council Linkage Project, LP1001000324 (April 2015). Report identified and analysed the individual, combined and interactive effects of athlete, environmental and system determinants of talented athlete identification, confirmation and development (TID) in Australia. The research team investigated environmental, psychological, socio-cultural and developmental attributes previously overlooked in research specific to athlete recruitment and development. Findings from this research project provide sport organisations with strong evidence to help them refine their TID strategies, resource provision, and program design. This research represents a significant step towards a more detailed and nuanced understanding of sport participation and pre-elite development than has previously been undertaken in the Australian context.
  • The impacts of transport accessibility and  remoteness on Australian Football League  (AFL) talent production: findings from the ‘Talent Tracker’ project (PDF  - 286 KB), Burkel M,  Woolcock G, Urban Research Program, Griffith University (2013). Authors researched AFL players from 1997-2010 to identify their place of junior development, defined as the club or school where they were registered whilst playing during the ages of 11 to 15. Study found that as transport accessibility increases and remoteness decreases, a region is more likely to produce talented AFL players. But the strength of the association is limited. The research raised questions about locations such as the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, as to what has allowed them to produce so many AFL players? Is there something about transport and the sports landscape at the regional scale that allows them to overcome these problems? Or are other non-spatial factors – such as the Western Australian Football League’s considerable investment in regional and remote community development – working to overcome these limitations?
  • Measuring spatial variations in sports talent development: the approach, methods and measures of ‘Talent Tracker’ (PDF  - 743 KB),  Woolcock G, Burke M, Australian Geographer, Volume 44, Issue 1 (2013). Paper in Griffith University Online provided data from AFL draft records, informants and secondary sources identified the place of junior talent development for the 1,290 players who were drafted and played at least one game of senior AFL football in the period 1997-2010. Data is displayed by regions throughout Australia.
  • Smart Talk Presentation 2009 : AFL Talent Hotspots and the 'Wagga Effect' [video], Associate Professor Geoff Woolcock, (18/3/09). The 'Wagga Effect', a term used frequently in the Australian media to describe the disproportionately large number of elite sportsmen and women that originate from the city of Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales, highlights that not enough is known about why this occurs in Wagga Wagga or other similar sport development 'hotspots'. It is generally acknowledged that critical social factors such as family upbringing and the socio-economic status of resident communities are likely predictors of sporting talent development but in Australia, aside from a few ad hoc and sport-specific case studies, little rigorous and longitudinal empirical data has been collected and collated to advance causal claims in this area. It is speculated - via the 'Wagga Effect' - that the phenomenon may arise in rural areas where the population is large enough to sustain the presence of a large number of sporting codes, but small enough to ensure that talented individuals are exposed to adult-level competition at an earlier age. However, this speculation remains just that in the absence of rigorous data collection and analysis across a range of sports. Associate Professor Geoff Woolcott presented his findings of a pilot study looking at AFL talent hotspots.

Research into other major sporting codes includes:

  • First club location and relative age as influences on being a professional Australian rugby league player, Cobley S, Hanratty M, O’Connor D, Cotton W, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, Volume 9, Issue 2 (2014). This research found that players who began their participation as juniors in a country club are statistically overrepresented in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition. It examined the ages and first clubs of NRL players' between 1998 and 2010. The findings supported the idea that small rural communities have a more beneficial playing or social environment that helps to nurture professional players in the long-term. More than 16 per cent of professional NRL players started as a junior in a town with a population less than 10,000 people.
  • Review of Football in Country Victoria(PDF  - 2.5 MB) (2011) stated that Country Victoria has provided 22% (279 of a total of 1281) of the draftees into the AFL competition since 1997.

Sports Organisations

Many of the larger national sports organisations and their state counterparts fund athlete development programs in regional areas. This may be through state associations or regional academies of sport. In addition, these organisations have developed competitions for the development and identification of rural and regional athletes. Examples include:

  • AFL. AFL Victoria Country Championships
  • Basketball. Australian Country Junior Basketball Cup (ACJBC). The first cup was held in 1985. In 2014, there were  64 teams with more than 700 players, coaches and officials taking part including teams from Western Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand in the under 14, 16 and 18 age groups. 
  • Cricket. Australia Country Cricket Championships. The Championships have proved to be a successful breeding ground for Australian test players. Approximately 45% of Australia's cricketing talent has been drawn from country regions, the most famous being Sir Donald Bradman. These Championships have included players such as Michael Bevan, Shaun Tait and Andy Bichel who have gone on to represent Australia.
  • Rugby League. NSW Country Rugby League Regional Championships. Covers Under 14, 16 and 18 age groups
  • Rugby Union. National Rugby Championship. Includes country teams from New South Wales and Queensland
  • Tennis. Australian Made Foundation Cup. Cup provides young children from rural and regional Australia the opportunity to compete nationally. The event forms part of the Australian Made Summer of Tennis. In recent years, elite players such as Australian Open and Wimbledon Junior Champion Luke Saville and Australian Fed Cup player Jessica Moore have participated in the event.

Regional Academies of Sport

Regional academy programs are funded through state governments. They have close working relationships with their respective State Institute/Academy of Sport, but maintain their own governance structure.  They work cooperatively with State Sporting Organisations (SSOs) to provide additional athlete support and training/competition opportunities for talented youth, between the ages of 12 and 18 years. 

New South Wales

NSW Sport and Recreation supports and provides annual grants to the network of regional academies of sport. A total of eleven academies – 10 independent community based academies and one at Warren, which is operated by NSW Sport and Recreation.

The NSW regional academies help developing athletes reach their potential by providing specialist services within a local environment. Regional academies provide a stepping stone for athletes on the pathway to elite athlete development as they progress from local club to NSW Institute of Sport support.


  • Queensland Academy of Sport operates an office out of Townsville.
  • The Gold Coast Academy of Sport (GCAS) is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to offer the community inclusive sports development programs for youth who are committed to high achievement. The Academy is the first in Queensland. The business partners of the GCAS include the Gold Coast City Council, local business on the Gold Coast and a host of other corporate sponsors.


All Victorian regional academies of sport are community based organisations that have established comprehensive programs to provide talented regional athletes with access to coaching and education programs of excellence, assisting them to reach their full sporting potential and enhance their access to pathways into State and National representation. Regional academies assist in the identification and nurturing of young athletes by providing programs and services to bridge the gap between club and elite levels. Considerable effort is focused on overcoming possible disadvantages faced by regional athletes, such as limited local resources and greater travelling time and distances. Together with the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) the regional academies are working to make regional Victoria areas of sporting excellence.

Western Australia

  • Mid West Academy of Sport (MWAS) (Geraldton). Promotes, develops and services sporting talent (athletes, coaches and officials) throughout the Mid West Region of Western Australia. The Academy concept was proven to be financially viable and has continued to attract support from the WA Department of Sport and Recreation with local businesses also providing a significant in-kind and financial support.
  • South West Academy of Sport  (SWAS) (Bunbury). Is styled after the Western Australian Institute of Sport and successful regional models in the eastern states of Australia. It supports identified SWAS athletes to their reach potential through identified pathways and programs delivered in the South West with support services such as nutrition, fitness, injury prevention and mental skills training to hold them in good stead for a future in sport.

Tertiary Education

Universities located in rural and regional Australia that offer sport and related degrees include:

Many universities based in capital cities also offer sport and related degrees through online distance education. TAFE's location throughout rural and regional areas offer sport and recreation courses.

Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission) has several online resources to assist rural and regional communities - Club Development, Play by the Rules and Coaching and Officiating Development 

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

News Stories

This list provides an insight into current issues and programs. 

  • Grass Roots Footy Documentary Series: Finley  - Sporting Chance Magazine (2018). Video documents the role that Finley Football and Netball Club plays in building and maintaining the social, cultural and financial fabric of Finley, a small rural town in New South Wales. 23 mins.
  • Tiny town with big Olympic ambitions, Steve Butler, West Australian (28 May 2016). Small Western Australian town of South Stirling has two athletes - Sonja Johnson (equestrian) and Kathryn Slattery (hockey) being strong contenders for 2016 Rio Olympics selection.
  • How the Tumut 9s are keeping footy alive in one country town, Dean Ritchie, (19 Match 2016). After a golden era through the 1970s and 1980s, footy stalled in Tumut. To drag back enthusiasm, numbers and passion, the Tumut 9s was born. With the help of volunteers, rugby league is now flying in this country town.
  • Nickel industry downturn pushes Kambalda footy club to the brink, Rhiannon Shine,ABC News (February 2016).  The Kambalda Football Club a member of WA Goldfields Football League (GFL) may be forced out of the competition due to the down turn in the nickel industry.
  • Bush kids brought to beach for Taveners Camp, Sam Burbury, NBN News (January 2016).  Lords Taverners charity organised a group of outback children to go sailing on Lake Ainsworth, NSW Far North Coast.
  • Outback children forge friendships through fitness, Nathalie Fernbach, ABC North Qld(December 2015). Children from outback and remote properties across north-west Queensland visited Charters Towers for four days of fitness and socialising at the annual Fit for Rural Futures sports camp.
  • Country racing clubs vow to fight changes that would reduce meets and prize money, Kallee Buchanan, ABC QLD Country Hour (December 2015). Racing Queensland plan 'Tracking Towards Sustainability' proposed scrapping up to 60 country race meets and a $4.6 million cut to prize money.
  • Farmers put through their paces in inaugural Farm Fit Challenge, Tara de Landgrafft ,ABC WA Country Hour (October 2015). At the Esperrance, WA Agricultural Show, about 40 competitors showed their strength in farm-based events, including running with hay bales, hauling chemical drums and pushing utes.
  • Gippsland sporting groups meet to look at ways of including players from all cultures, Zoe Ferguson, ABC Gippsland (October 2015). Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) organised a meeting in Morwell, Victoria of sporting association representatives and young people from multicultural backgrounds to discuss how sporting clubs could increase inclusion of players from other cultures.
  • The final siren: rival country football teams unite to survive and move with the times, Tim Lee, ABC News (August 2015). Landline program on the merger of AFL teams Walpeup-Underbool, and the Ouyen United Demons in the Mallee Football League in Victoria.
  • The secret behind one outback town's sporting success, Alice Roberts, ABC Capricornia (May 2015). The Springsure junior rugby league and junior cricket clubs in Queensland  have thrived for the past couple of seasons, despite drought and a slowdown in the mining sector due to strong support from local families and coaches.
  • Suicide prevention app i-bobbly is saving lives, developers, Natalie Jones, ABC News(21 February 2015). Together with the Black Dog Institute, suicide prevention group Alive and Kicking Goals launched the i-bobbly app last year to a select group of over-18s in Broome.
  • The City of Busselton says the town has become the regional events capital of Australia, Rachel Curry, Western Australian Regional (9 August 2014). Sporting events generated an estimated $53.8 million in economic impact - a return of $83 for each dollar spent by the City. 
  • Expert says changing demographics impacting organised sport in rural towns, Gavin Coote, ABC News (3 March 2014). University of South Australia researcher Jim Dollman found changing demographics in rural communities was putting organised sport under threat.
  • Numbers down for bush kids sports week, Virginia Tapp, ABC Rural (December 2013). Sports for Bush Kids is a week run by the parents of children who attend the Mount Isa School of the Air and allows children to play team sports and receive professional coaching.
  • Football club binds a tiny town together, Sophie Malcolm, ABC Mildura-Swan Hill(September 2015).  Importance of football in the Victorian Mallee town of Lambert.
  • Sports program promotes healthy living for regional children, Andrew Forster, ABC Southern Queensland News (31 March 2011). 'Deadly Sports' is a Queensland wide initiative to teach children from remote and rural communities about sport and provide them an opportunity to try different sports to promote health and fitness.
  • This sporting life, Craig Berkman, ABC Landline (September 2010). The Condamine Codgers,an over 35's rugby union side based in the Darling Downs, Queensland, are making a difference particularly in relation to mental health in the bush. 
  • Home grown sport, Bronwyn Herbert, ABC Landline (April 2009). Story of polocroose, a sport developed in rural Australia.
  • Kicking Goals for Mental HealthSouthern NSW Local Health District Newsroom (17 April 2009). Kicking Goals with Rural Mental Health project, an initiative of Greater Southern Area Health Service, involved the Hume Football League in an awareness and education campaign about mental wellbeing, particularly during the difficult times of drought.
  • Country sportABC Sports Factor (October 2010). Transcript of program examining issues in rural and regional sport in 2000.


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