The Future of Australian Sport

Inside Sport Editor, Jeff Centenera, tackles the big questions in Australian sport: our greatest athletes right now, the future of Test Cricket and the A-League, how the AFL got ahead and more.

1. Inside Sport has covered sport in Australia for over 25 years, what changes have you observed over that time in the way you cover sport, what readers are interested in or how different sports have trended?

I find the most profound change is how Australian sport is much more integrated into the rest of the world, both in a cultural and technological sense. When the magazine started in the early 1990s, there was a novelty factor in reporting on an Aussie athlete competing in Europe or North America, or even telling the story of a rugby league player to people in the AFL states. These days, the consciousness of sports fans is all-encompassing – it’s really not a surprise when one of our footballers talks about their fascination with NFL, or your kid knows about some obscure soccer player in the German second division he learned about from playing FIFA on the PlayStation. There’s so much more live sport on TV, and there’s an online conversation that accompanies it. I believe that helps us, though – there’s a place for deep contemplation about sport, alongside the highlights and tweets.

2. Who do you think are Australia's top male and female athletes at the moment and why?

That’s a keenly contested title; we recently went through this type of exercise for our top ten of 2016. Footy-wise, it will become apparent to us in the years to come just how great Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith have been in the NRL, and Patrick Dangerfield truly had one of the great AFL seasons last year. I would also note that we have at present a world no.1 in golf in Jason Day, and this is significant. Among our female athletes, there are so many outstanding ones – rower Kim Brennan, surfer Tyler Wright, the rugby sevens team – and even more exciting is the potential boom in women’s professional sport that we’re seeing.

3. What is your top, or top two Australian sporting moments for 2016?

At the risk of being parochial (apologies to Cronulla fans), the Western Bulldogs’ premiership run bordered on fiction. And that moment in the post-match ceremony when their coach, Luke Beveridge, gave his medal to his injured captain Bob Murphy, was one of the classiest gestures I’ve seen in sport. Also have to mention Kyle Chalmers’ gold-medal swim in the Olympics– a schoolboy ends Australia’s half-century-long chase of the 100m freestyle title.

4. AFL seems to have been able to promote and grow its game better than the other leading sports such as rugby league, cricket and rugby union. Is that accurate and what do you think has been the difference there?

The AFL has reaped the benefits of a vision – in governance, in where it placed new clubs, in initiatives such as Auskick – that it laid out and pursued 20 years ago. One thing it has done particularly well is appeal to female fans, where it’s a world leader among footy codes. That said, there’s a challenging environment ahead for the AFL, and the other big professional leagues in this country will face it too – the players can see the money gushing into their sports, and sense they’re not getting a fair share of it. Conflict between players and the league/clubs, in the form of event boycotts or maybe even a strike, wouldn’t surprise me.

5. T20 cricket’s popularity continues to rise. Will it continue, and what does it mean for Test cricket?

Cricket is going through another period of redefinition, akin to World Series Cricket in the late 1970s. If anyone knows what cricket will look like in ten years … well, you could make a lot of money with that knowledge. T20 is not going away. Big Bash has proven itself as a way for Australians to get their cricket-watching fix during the summer. I do worry what the effect will be on the Test format – we recently made the case in the magazine to split the forms of cricket into separate sports, a la rugby league and union, or indoor and beach volleyball. We’ll all get excited again at the end of the year when England comes to tour here. But I can already envisage the day when an Ashes series is the only serious Test cricket played.

6. The A-League is increasingly vying for the nation's sporting attention. With the addition of Tim Cahill to Melbourne City, the game looks to be doing the right things to build its profile and audience, what's your prediction on where the A-League will be in five or 10 years’ time?

Another tough one to predict. The code has always had potential, and the league has shown vitality: the formation of the Wanderers, growing ties to Asia. The difficulty it will always encounter is the availability of the highest-level football from around the world – you can be a fervent Premier League fan and not follow the A-League at all. And growth is not a given; as someone who follows NBL basketball, I’m acutely aware of how leagues can squander their support if not properly managed.   7. Australia used to be the no.1 tennis nation in the world. What happened? The Australian Open is about to heat up again. Who are the players you're keen to watch this year? I once read an interesting story about how the disappearance of the big backyard from Aussie homes explained the nation’s tennis decline (smaller yard equals fewer courts). That’s my way of saying that the phenomenon is probably caused by a range of factors, including a vastly more diverse tennis world than the one Australia used to dominate. As for players, this might be the year we see the next wave of stars emerge beyond the Big Four-Serena group. And though the behaviour is indefensible, Nick Kyrgios still intrigues me. Good or bad, he’s compelling.

7. Australia used to be the no.1 tennis nation in the world. What happened? The Australian Open is about to heat up again. Who are the players you're keen to watch this year?

I once read an interesting story about how the disappearance of the big backyard from Aussie homes explained the nation’s tennis decline (smaller yard equals fewer courts). That’s my way of saying that the phenomenon is probably caused by a range of factors, including a vastly more diverse tennis world than the one Australia used to dominate. As for players, this might be the year we see the next wave of stars emerge beyond the Big Four-Serena group. And though the behaviour is indefensible, Nick Kyrgios still intrigues me. Good or bad, he’s compelling.

8. What other sports should we keep an eye on?

Cycling is a very promising niche, as a big participation sport with an elite competitive circuit for that interest to flow into. And it helps greatly that Australians are featuring prominently. Because they’re based in Europe, we probably don’t give due credit to Aussie cyclists for what they’re achieving. Of course, that could change if another Cadel Evans-level contender for the Tour de France emerges – so much about cycling boils down to the Tour.

9. Inside Sport magazine has undergone a refresh over the past year and we're keen to learn more. Can you tell us about the changes you've made?

We overhauled the look and feel of the magazine. The core of the magazine remains its long-form features – we still love a 3000-word profile – but we’ve tried to make the other sections more concise, digestible and visually driven. Still trying to tell deeper, quite-involved stories about sport, but in a greater variety of story forms, whether that’s through graphics or stats or such. We think it’s a nice complement to the longer stuff, and it also allowed us to restructure our editions to add more feature-length content.

10. What's in store for 2017? Can you share any secrets about what we can look forward to from the magazine?

We start the year with something new for us: a pair of wall-to-wall footy previews, with the NRL in March and the corresponding AFL one in April. Both will focus on a question: what is the dynasty potential of your footy team? We’ll surely have a major cricket thread throughout 2017, with the India tour, ICC Champions Trophy and Ashes series, and it’s something that is bolstered by our partnership with Inside Cricket magazine. And one of the big developments of this year is the arrival of these new women’s professional leagues: Super Netball, AFL Women’s, the rugby sevens series. There are many great stories waiting to be told in the creation of these leagues. One last we can hint at: a comprehensive look at where each sport stands in the popularity stakes in Australia.

11. In a nutshell, what can readers expect from Inside Sport magazine?

Our aim is to give the thinking-fan something to read every month – it might be his or her favourite pastime, but it’s most gratifying to us when they pick up on a story about a sport they don’t follow or even know about, and see something of interest there. The content in Inside Sport is exclusive; it won’t be found anywhere else. We also produce related stories for our website, as well as other material online. But the full thing will only be found in the magazine.

12. What is the best part of your job as editor of Inside Sport?

I’m reminded whenever I’m deep in a sport-related discussion, usually with someone who has a real job – to get to do this for a living is a privilege. I would watch, think, talk and write about sport no matter what. It just happens that someone pays me for it.

13. Why should readers subscribe?

I’ve always thought what makes sport fun is the narrative that surrounds it – otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people playing. We channel that narrative, and as the world of sport seems awash in attitudes and opinions, there’s a value in a publication that will go out every month, talk to the people in the game and take a wider, more considered view.

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