If soccer can not capitalise on current fever pitch excitement to take a slice of other sporting codes’ dollars, what chance does cycling have, asks Anthony Tan?
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

On Friday, the only sporting code that has a greater country
participation than that other four-yearly sporting event, the Olympic
Games, begins in South Africa.

In terms of participation at all
levels, no other sport can match the ubiquity of soccer, er, I mean
football.

The state where I live when not chasing men on two
wheels around Europe or Asia, NSW, boasts more than 200,000 active
players.

The national women's team, the Matildas, defied pundits
last week by winning
the Asian Cup in truly inspirational, nail-biting style, defeating
North Korea in a penalty shoot-out.

For a second consecutive
occasion, Australia has qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals and
excitement is at fever pitch, where the Socceroos are due to face off
against Germany, semi-finalists at the 2006 event, next Monday, 14 June.

The
top-tier national men's competition, the A-League, is healthier than
ever, thanks in large part to Australian-Israeli businessman Frank Lowy,
chairman of Football Federation Australia, founder of property giant
Westfield and a man with a lifelong passion for the sport, who has
underwritten much of its development.

Now comes the disconnect.

Despite
a tripling of dollars in the past five years through brands including
Hyundai, Qantas, Schweppes and Sony, annual sponsorship is an estimated –
wait for it – $24 million, according to research group Sweeney.

$24
million a year. A considerably lower figure than that of Australian
Rules Football and rugby league. In cycling terms, that will get you one
year at ProTour level, and you'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel
by the time the Vuelta a España comes around.

And despite the
ubiquitous nature of soccer and a handful of big-name brands supporting
an improved domestic competition, the code shares a similar predicament
with cycling: it cannot retain its blue riband stars in Australia.

In
cycling as in football, past the AIS, it's impossible to develop
"generation next" without going abroad. Europe is the heartland: it's
where the Grand Tours are and always will be, it's where the Classics
are and will be, and that will never change.

I'm not saying
cycling at all levels can't continue to grow in Australia or elsewhere
outside of Europe. The United States is a prime example.

But to
support an Australian owned and operated ProTour team that fans can
regularly see in the flesh, as much as I'd like to see that happen, is a
little overzealous and expecting too much.

With the Socceroos'
past World Cup success firmly in mind, the 2010 edition imminent and a
realistic bid to host the 2018 World Cup under way, the potential for
soccer to take on other sporting codes has never been greater.

However
if a man like Lowy can't make that happen, what chance does cycling
have to be viewed by most as anything other than a second-class sport,
in a country of just 22 million people?

Soccer's A-League will
never become greater than the English Premier League or UEFA Champions
League, just as cycling's National Road Series will never eclipse the
UCI ProTour or the Historical Calendar.

In cycling and soccer,
perhaps we should simply celebrate Australians' success – truly prolific
so far this season – whatever colours they wear, and the odd occasion
when they do get together in the green and gold, cheer that little bit
more.

Especially this September, when for the first time ever,
the world road championships will be held in our own backyard.