A Guide to Sports in Sydney: From Rugby and Australian Football, to Horse Racing and Beyond

Nov 7, 2018 10:12:00 AM / by Martyn Megaloudis

After experiencing a horse race at Sydney's Royal Randwick Racecourse, Martyn highlights the different sports Sydney residents enjoy watching or partaking in, from the cultural staples of Cricket and Rugby to the more unique likes of Lawn Bowling and Australian football.

For this week’s blog post I wanted to put a spotlight on sports in Sydney—specifically, I wanted to touch on my day experiencing Spring Racing on Cox Plate Day at the Royal Randwick Racecourse. The Spring horse races at Randwick were actually my first taste of sports life in Sydney and in Australia as a whole. This is partly due to the fact that I haven’t joined a recreational sports team abroad because of my distinct lack of coordination and because I have the body composition of a geriatric walrus.

But before we discuss the intricacies of track level, horse size, and grooming techniques I think it would be important to touch on two popular Australian sports that don’t have as much clout as some other sports back home. It’s worth noting that Rugby and Cricket are incredibly popular in Sydney and Australia as a whole. Both sports have National and International leagues and teams. There’s definitely a greater interest and passion for these two sports over others – I would compare it to the level of fervor and love that America has for baseball (which isn’t as popular in Sydney as it is in say Boston or Los Angeles this past weekend).

There are two other sports I would also like to note:

1. Lawn Bowls: Originally developed by the Ancient Egyptians and then refined by Scotland in the 1800’s, lawn bowling has found a new home as one of Sydney’s most distinct leisure sports. The actual game more resembles a mix between traditional bowling found in the United States and curling. It is typically played outside on a grass rectangle and can consist of teams or one-on-one matches. The sole objective of lawn bowling is to roll their bowls across the green to a smaller white bowl called the jack. The game is simple conceptually in that the person closest to the jack is deemed the winner. Lawn bowling has become more of a leisure activity for Sydney’s youth and working adults than a competitive and serious sport.

2. Australian football: I’m not going to discuss this sport for one specific reason – this is the third distinct sport called “football”. There’s no reason I or anyone for that matter would have to specify if I’m talking about “American football”, “Australian football”, or simply “football”. I will say that Australian football seems like an insanely entertaining sport to go and watch in person. It’s a mixture of American football (see what I mean?), rugby, and wrestling in a sense, and it all takes place on a modified cricket field. It’s incredibly hard to explain in the written word but it’s more or less a tug of war- with two teams of incredible athletes clawing their way inch by inch to the other side of the field against the onslaught of a wall of equally able defenders.

Front Row at the Royal Randwick RacecourseA front row viewing of the Royal Randwick Racecourse.

Now to discuss the main event at hand: Horse Racing at the Royal Randwick Racecourse. I’ve never been to a horse racing event back home and didn’t really know what to expect. I know that the Kentucky Derby is still a cultural cornerstone for those in and around Kentucky (wherever that is). What I found was an experience that was weirdly American in nature – barring a few tiny hats. The Royal Randwick Racecourse offers up the full range of sport-goers from the underdressed, unimpressed, and only-in-for-the-gambling grandpas to the high society droves of socialists and sports enthusiasts that clink champagne glasses and eat cheese platters while watching from their elevated box office seating.

It’s weird to bump into someone who more or less looks like an extra from an Ocean’s Eleven movie and then four seconds later bump into someone else who is more or less dressed for the Epsom Derby – tiny hat on their head and all (I bump into a lot of people – like I said, I’m not exactly overflowing with coordination).

Royal Randwick RacecourseThe excitement that some people felt for some of the contestants rivaled that of your uncle's favorite football team that's been bad for thirty-five years.

There was a strange familiarity to the event and it was only after eating a Nathan’s branded hot dog and finishing a Coca-Cola that I realized this was fundamentally the same setup as a college football game back home. No matter where you came from or why you came- you came because you enjoyed the sport and all that it offered. Whether you’re there to pay off your mortgage with bets (this is something I actually overheard), to dress nicely and hang out with friends, or to simply watch some thoroughbreds race, the racecourse offers something for everyone.

Where Bet-Takers can View the Horses at the Royal Randwick RacecourseThis is where prospective bet-takers get to see the horse and their rider's pre-race.

The races worked in cycles: you would first get to view the horses and their riders strut around while announcers discussed each of the duo’s traits and attributes. This is without a doubt meant to give late-stage betters the chance to decide on who they are backing. The horses then line up on the track and run a 1400 meter race in what feels like thirty seconds. Due to the distance of the horses, it’s hard to see first-hand the events that are taking place. The 40-foot screen in front of the track helps but there’s always a disconnect between watching an event on tv and watching an event first hand. But as I said, I honestly don't believe that the race itself is the main draw here. It’s about the “experience” and what that experience brings to different sets of people.

When it’s all said and done, I don't think I’ll ever intentionally seek out a horse race again while I'm in Sydney, but it was nice to get reacquainted with the sports spectator lifestyle that I’ve been missing out on while abroad.

Thanks Martyn!

Martyn Megaloudis

Martyn Megaloudis is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Marketing major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

Martyn's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Sydney Program

Topics: Sydney, Australia, Local Culture