By Greg Johnson
Cycling's popularity in Australia has held steady despite the controversy surrounding doping investigations which have impacted the sport's following in other nations, according to figures released by Australian researcher Sweeney Sports. The widely-respected annual sport interest figures, released by the company earlier in the week, show interest in cycling has declined by just a single percent, despite the controversies which continue to unfold in relation to Operación Puerto and the 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis.
The researcher ranks cycling as the ninth most popular sport in Australia, with an interest rate of 35 per-cent of the nation's population. The statistics, based off figures taken from populations in Australia's eight capital cities, also rank cycling as the nation's equal-third highest participation sport, trailing only swimming and bushwalking/hiking, which dropped behind cycling in popularity in this year's report.
In a year which saw most non-mainstream (a term generally referring to anything other than ball sports or swimming) sports take a dive in television audience, the report shows that cycling wasn't spared, with viewing audiences down by three points. The result comes despite the performance of the nation's cyclists abroad, such as Stuart O'Grady's Paris-Roubaix victory, and the increased broadcast commitments to the sport.
Meanwhile at the top of Sweeney Sport's chart cricket has taken over the lead, after swimming's popularity slumped by four per-cent in a year that saw the retirement of swimming super star Ian Thorpe, who has since been accused of returning an illegally high testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio by French newspaper L'Equipe.