A Nation of "Good Sports"? Cultural Citizenship and Sport in Contemporary Australia

Researcher: Professor David Rowe
Funding: Australian Research Council (opens in a new window), Discovery Project
Period: 2013-2015

Thumbnail of cricket game at Sydney Cricket Ground showing players, the crowd and the scoreboard.

Sport is regarded, officially and popularly, as both characterising and uniting Australians. But sport's relationship to national culture is changing in response to shifts in both sporting participation and embodied/mediated spectatorship, and in the nation itself. This project reconsiders Australia's oft-remarked sporting 'obsession' in this dynamic context and its implications for cultural citizenship in the construction of (trans)national identities and affinities. It will advance conceptual and empirical understanding of the constituents of national sports culture and contribute to academic, policy and public debates surrounding Australia's sport and media systems, and the uses and meanings of sport among Australia's diverse citizenry.


Australia is widely regarded as both characterised and united by sport. Sport has an elevated place in Australia's official and popular national culture, and its reputation as a 'paradise of sport' has become a largely unquestioned aspect of Australian identity. But the established relationship between sport and nation is undergoing significant change in contemporary multicultural Australia.

A small image of the 'A nation of :good sports"' flyer which has a purple tint over a photo of a trophy sitting on a table.Focussing principally on sport participation and spectatorship, the aim of this project is to achieve an advanced understanding of sport's place in the lives of Australia's increasingly diverse citizenry. It focuses on the nation's most dynamic and diverse metropolitan region, Greater Western Sydney, exploring the extent of sport-related belonging, affinity and expression in an era of accelerating global change. This inquiry provides an opportunity to identify the direction of change in Australian national culture at a time when globalisation is intensifying, and global media - including global sports media – are increasingly available to people irrespective of where they live.

The significance of this project lies in its engagement with questions of nation and sport as they relate to 'cultural citizenship', which broadly concerns levels of engagement by all citizens in their national culture. Through this research a better grasp of sport's relation to Australian culture and identity will be gained, an enhancement of social scientific knowledge that will also assist the development of policies linking sport to cultural citizenship.

University Research Week Event: This Sporting Life? The Place of Sport in Western Sydney'

David Rowe presenting at This Sporting Life

As part of Western Sydney University's inaugural Research Week, Professor David Rowe led a discussion entitled 'This Sporting Life? The Place of Sport in Western Sydney'. This free public event was held at Parramatta Leagues Club on Tuesday, 2 December, 2014. It addressed the concerns of A Nation of 'Good Sports'? Cultural Citizenship and Sport in Contemporary Australia. Professor Rowe presented preliminary findings from the project and addressed the social and cultural issues raised by the research. The event also included short presentations from Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) School-based member Dr Jorge Knijnik and ICS PhD student Keith Parry on their respective research on the developing place-based fandom of the Western Sydney Wanderers football and Great Western Sydney Giants Australian rules clubs. The event discussed the history, present and future of sport in the lives of people both in Greater Western Sydney and across Australia in a globalising world. Also briefly showcased in the event was research on sport and biomedical science currently being undertaken at the University.

The event was opened by Professor Scott Holmes (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research & Development) and was attended by academics, students, sport participants, representatives of sport organisations and members of the general public.

Photos: Professor David Rowe presenting (above), Keith Parry (below left) and Dr Jorge Knijnik (below right).

Three photos from This Sporting Life: Keith Parry presenting, Jorge Knijnik presenting with David and Keith in the background, and the audience watching the presentations.

Academic publications and engagements

  • David Rowe was a speaker at Western Sydney University School of Law's public seminar on Sports, Sexism and the Law (opens in a new window), 28 April 2016 at the Collector Hotel, Parramatta.
  • David Rowe was a panellist at a public lecture on sport and the sociological imagination (opens in a new window), 10 February 2016 at Victoria University, Melbourne.
  • David Rowe (2016). 'Sports journalism and the FIFA scandal: personalization, co-optation, and investigation', Communication & Sport.
  • David Rowe (2016). 'Cultural citizenship, media and sport in contemporary Australia', International Review for the Sociology of Sport.
  • David Rowe (2014).  'The mediated nation and the transnational football fan' (opens in a new window), Soccer & Society.
  • David Rowe (2014). Changing Society, Changing Sport? Socio-Cultural Diversity and the Sporting System. Paper presented at XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology (opens in a new window). 13-19 July at Yokohama, Japan.
  • David Rowe (2014). 'It's a Very Hard Question': Negotiating Diasporic and Diverse Sporting Subjectivities. Paper presented at ISSA World Congress of Sociology of Sport. 9-13 July, Beijing, China.
  • Professor David Rowe (2013). Sport: Scandal, Gender and the Nation (opens in a new window). ICS Occasional Paper Series, 4(3).
  • Professor David Rowe (2013). 'A Nation of "Good Sports"'? Preliminary Reflections from, on and of the Field. Paper presented at 2013 The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Conference, Reflections, Intersections and Aspirations. 50 years of Australian Sociology. 25 – 28 November 2013 – Monash University Caulfield Campus.
  • Professor David Rowe (2013). Complexity and the Leisure Complex. Keynote Speech delivered at 11th Biennial ANZALS conference (opens in a new window). 4 – 6 December 2013. Monash University, Peninsula Campus.
  • Professor David Rowe, Institute for Culture and Society, UWS. Sport: Scandal, Gender and the Nation. 2013 TASA 50th Anniversary Public Lecture (opens in a new window). Presented by the Institute for Culture and Society and the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at UWS.

Related articles

Professor David Rowe has authored the following articles:

Media engagements

  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by 2ser radio on Australian sports and the social gap, 19 January 2017.
  • Professor David Rowe was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald: 'Despite Shane Sutton allegations, women athletes are gaining in race for equality' (opens in a new window), 1 May 2016.
  • Professor David Rowe was quoted in a Courier Mail opinion piece on 'Australia: the land where ignorance reigns' (opens in a new window), 4 April. The article was republished by The Daily Telegraph (opens in a new window).
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by The New Daily about SBS selling its World Cup rights to Optus: 'Soccer fans angry that SBS "sold its soul" to Optus' (opens in a new window), 17 March 2016.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by Radio National for their program on sport and democracy (opens in a new window), 1 February 2016.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by 702 ABC Sydney and 2ser radio on the extent of corruption in sport and match-fixing, 19 January 2016. He was also interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on 18 January.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by 2ser radio: 'Backlash over Chris Gale incident', 6 January 2016.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by 702 ABC Sydney Breakfast, ABC NewsRadio Afternoons and 702 ABC Sydney Overnights on the booing of Adam Goodes, 30 and 31 July 2015.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by The Sydney Morning Herald for their articles 'Why booing Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes is racist' (opens in a new window) and 'Racism is alive and well in Australia and we're doing our best to mask it', 30 July 2015.
  • Professor David Rowe spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald about classist rhetoric in the rivalry between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers: 'Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC: The Fibros v Silvertails mark II' (opens in a new window), 17 October 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was a panellist on ABC NewsRadio's Grandstand program, discussing women in sport alongside AFL Commissioner Sam Mostyn, NRL Club CEO Raelene Castle from the Canterbury Bulldogs and FFA Club CEO Heather Reid from Canberra United: 'The Ticket Episode 7' (opens in a new window), 15 September 2014. 
  • Professor David Rowe's blog 'A Nation of "Good Sports"'? Cultural Citizenship and Sport in Contemporary Australia' was featured as Open Forum's blog of the day, 24 July 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was featured in a story by The Age about the growing popularity of the Western Sydney Wanderers, and the implications of their popularity on football in Sydney: 'Western Sydney Wanderers' success gives football another boost in battle for Sydney's west' (opens in a new window), 15 May 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by ABC 702 Mornings about Sydney's first cultural policy, 12 May 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe and co-author Associate Professor Brett Hutchins were interviewed for the New Books Network about their book Sport Beyond Television, 20 March, 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe spoke to SYN 90.7 FM about sport and activism in context of Russia's anti-gay laws and attacks on Pussy Riot. Listen to the podcast on the ICS SoundCloud channel (opens in a new window), 20 February, 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by Sky News about the Sochi Winter Olympics being overshadowed by Russia's treatments of the LGBTI community, 6 February 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe spoke to Triple J's Hack program about the political activism of Sochi athletes in regards to Russia's treatment of the LGBTI community. Listen to the podcast on the ABC website (opens in a new window), 6 February 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by 936 ABC about the cultural lessons to be learnt from the Ashes series regarding fast food and alcohol consumption: 'Statewide mornings', 8 January 2014.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by Triple J about sex and gender imbalances in sport: 'Playing footy in your bikini', 11 September 2013.
  • Professor David Rowe was interviewed by the Sun Herald: 'Why the distrust of foreign coaches?(opens in a new window), 8 September 2013.
  • Professor David Rowe spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald about the commercialisation of sport: 'As sport loses lustre, fans look at options'(opens in a new window), 26 May 2013.
  • Professor David Rowe was featured in the Ballarat Courier: 'TV sport ingrained in our culture' (opens in a new window)(PDF,176KB), 26 December 2012.