Millions of Australians participate in sport and physical recreation. Nine out of 10 Australians aged 15 or over participated in some form of sport or physical recreation at least once during 2019–20, according to the AusPlay survey, and almost two thirds participated at least 3 times a week (Clearinghouse for Sport, 2020).

While such participation has many health and social benefits, it also involves a risk of injury. Sometimes, that injury leads to hospital admission.

This report analyses the almost 52,300 sports injuries that were serious enough to require a person to stay in hospital in 2019–20. It looks at the demographics of those injured and the types of injuries that led to hospitalisation. The effect of COVID-19-related restrictions on sport is also examined.

Participation estimates and rates of injury are presented for the most popular sports. Selected sports are discussed in more detail, including the various football codes, wheeled motor sports, netball, and cricket.

The report does not include information on people who sought treatment at hospital emergency departments, general practitioner clinics, sports medicine centres, or from other practitioners such as physiotherapists. Data is not readily available for these services.

This report complements two others by the AIHW - Economics of sports injury and participation - preliminary results and National sports injury data strategy.

Data sources and limitations

This report uses admitted patient care data from the AIHW’s National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) and sports participation estimates from the Clearinghouse for Sport's AusPlay survey.

National Hospital Morbidity Database

Data about sports injury hospitalisations are drawn from admitted patient care records in the NHMD. If enough detail about the cause of the injury was obtained from the patient, then a particular type of sports activity will be assigned.

A single injury can lead to a person having more than one episode of care in hospital. The methodology for this report was designed to minimise double counting, where possible.

A person can be hospitalised with multiple injuries, some of which will be more serious than others. This report only presents data about the main injury—known as the principal diagnosis.


Every year, the AusPlay survey asks a sample of 20,000 Australians about their participation in sports and physical recreation. The survey results include estimates of the number of participants in a range of activities. This report only includes estimates of participants aged 15 and over.

Data limitations

These data sources do not fully capture either sports injury hospitalisations or sports participation in Australia. For hospital admissions, injuries are attributed to a sports activity if clinicians are informed about the activity and record it, but this will not always happen. Therefore, the sports injuries reported here are likely to be an undercount. The AusPlay survey does not distinguish between organised sports and recreational participation. As a result, rates of injury per participant in each sport should be treated as estimates, and comparisons made with this in mind.

What we don’t know

This report only includes injuries that were serious enough to require a stay in hospital. This excludes injuries that were treated in the emergency department only, at a GP clinic, or by another practitioner such as a physiotherapist, because data coverage for these services is limited.

It is likely that only a small proportion of sporting injuries lead to a stay in hospital, and these are typically more severe injuries. A New South Wales Population Health Survey from 2005 estimated that less than 3% of organised sport injuries in persons aged 16 and over lead to a hospital admission (Mitchell et al. 2008).

It is also possible that some injuries that develop over time, including chronic injuries, might be caused by sports participation but never directly linked to a particular sport. If a person seeks treatment months or years after they played sport, they might not report the connection between their injury and a sport to the clinician.

For more on the scope, accuracy, and comparability of these data sets, see the Technical notes.

The next section presents data about sports injury hospitalisations in 2019–20.