World rankings. Harder to make them useful than you’d think.

Soccer 63 10
Basketball 11 2
Baseball[2] 14 3
Rugby Union[3] 6 9
Field Hockey 1 2
Cricket (Test, ODI, T20)[4] 2, 1, 3 ?,1,1
Volleyball 13 46
Golf (26 June 2015) 8 (Jason Day) 16 (Minjee Lee)
Tennis (29 June 2015) 26 (Bernard Tomic) 23 (Sam Stosur)
Table Tennis (June 2015) 115 (William Henzell) 112 (Jian Fang Lay)

So when I started writing this, I was going to just grab the registered player numbers off the Federation Internationale sites, the registered player numbers from the Australian peak body sites, dump the international rankings in the table and call it a good job done.

I was expecting to be able to say:

  • Australians rock at sport
  • Australian women particularly rock at sport
  • Follow up – let’s make it financially feasible for all our players and esp. our rocking Australian women to just play the damn game.[5]

But, this became much more of an interesting challenge, because it was surprisingly hard even to get the world rankings.  Every sport does their rankings a little differently – and even within some sports, the variation in method between ranking the women and men is quite substantial.  I’ve provided some notes where this situation applies.

It’s much, much harder than you’d expect to get a picture of the number of registered players of any particular sport in the world. I thought that would be easy – I wouldn’t have to faff around at the edges of ‘participation’ and try to figure out a definition, or how to match various sports’ definitions with each other.  But as it turns out, basketball is just not going to tell you how many registered players it has. Nope. Nope. Nope.  So while they’re sticking with ‘More than 400 million players worldwide and 70% of all teenagers in Asia’, FIFA is giving me 38,335,134 registered players. But it’s 2006 data. I am gracelessly accepting that I’m not going to get those numbers in an acceptable timeframe and moving on.

Australian sporting bodies are much better and have good numbers in their annual reports, but without an international measuring stick, the value of that information (for my purposes) falls below the effort required to collect it.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a useful and consistently defined ‘participation’ number for sports, but my problems with international consistency of definition (and need to run chores today) remain.

Result – I’ve dumped that information out of the table above.

Without the supporting numbers for money going into player development and support both in Australia and abroad (which was always going to be beyond the scope of a couple of hours of tinkering on the internet), I can’t really say anything comparing how well the men do to how well the women do within their respective competitions.

So, in the end, what did I manage to show with this table? Pretty much that Australians are shit hot at sports and that Australian women are particularly shit hot at sport.

But I knew that already.

[1] Sports picked by checking a number of “World’s most popular sports” lists from a variety of places. Ordering of these lists was usually either by participation or spectator numbers. When “value of league” was added, American Football showed up. When “attendance at games” was a factor, Australian Rules Football turns out to be 4th on the list.  Rankings as per the official websites on 02/07/2015.

[2] Baseball – Men’s rankings include results from national junior, as well as senior teams.  Women’s rankings are a reflection of placing in the last women’s world cup.

[3] Rugby Union – There is no official women’s world rugby ranking list – as I understand it, Serge Piquet’s rankings are widely accepted (

[4] Cricket – Women’s teams are not ranked, but the individual players are.  My numbers here are the results of the most recent Women’s World Cup competitions (2013 ODI and 2014 T20). ICC says that until fairly recently, there just weren’t enough women’s games played to really be able to rank and there’s still not enough test cricket played to be able to rank players with any meaning.  That said, there are 3 Australian women players in the Top 10 for ODI and 2 for T20.  And congrats to the ICC for taking the time to explain what’s going on with the differences in rankings between the mens and womens competitions.

[5] When the Matildas pay fuss first rose I just quickly double-checked the ‘salary’ number. FYI, it is substantially below all of the poverty lines, including the lowest poverty line of not-working-single person. (Poverty line info from Dec 2014 Henderson Poverty Line quarterly update from Melbourne Uni)


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