The Roar
The Roar


Notable Australian sports deaths in 2017

Vale Les Murray. (AP Photo/SBS Television)
Roar Rookie
20th December, 2017

In 2017, many Australian sporting athletes, coaches, administrators and journalists passed away. This list aims to recognise them.

Among them are Betty Cuthbert (athletics), Les Murray (football), Lou Richards (AFL) and Gillian Rolton (equestrian).

This list is not exhaustive as it doesn’t include the many contributors at the state and local level. Sadly, several of those who have died are former athletes who took their own life.

Reg Arnold OAM (1924-2017) – a cyclist who specialised in six-day races between 1945 and 1961.

John Bahen (1943-2017) – played 67 VFL games for the Fitzroy Lions from 1962 to 1967.

Neil Betts (1926-2017) – played seven Tests for the Wallabies between 1949 and 1954.

Harry Beitzel (1927-2017) – an Aussie Rules umpire, sports broadcaster and media personality. He is credited with establishing the International Rules Series in 1967.

Mike Cockerill (1960-2017) – sports journalist specialising in soccer.

Merv Crossman (1935-2017) – field hockey player at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 1964.


Betty Cuthbert AM MBE (1938-2017) – ‘The Golden Girl.’ Athletics sprinter who won four gold medals at the Olympics – three in 1956 and one in 1964. Inducted as a legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Betty Cuthbert 1956 Melbourne Olympics

(Image: Wikimedia Commons/public domain)

Peter Doohan (1961-2017) – a tennis player who earned himself the nickname “The Becker Wrecker” at home in Australia after defeating Boris Becker, the top seed, at Wimbledon in 1987.

Brett Dennis (1971-2017) – a cyclist who was a member of the team trial team that won a gold medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia.

Fred Goldsmith (1932-2017) – played 119 VFL games for South Melbourne from 1951 to 1959 and was the 1955 Brownlow Medallist.

Trevor Grant (1951-2017) – sports journalist with several Melbourne newspapers from 1968 to 2008.

Hayden Haitana (1945-2017) – race horse trainer who was at the centre of the Fine Cotton horse substitution scandal in 1984.

Bob ‘Dutchy’ Holland (1946-2017) – leg-spinner who made his Test cricket debut at 38. He went on to play in 11 Tests, taking 24 wickets.


Pat Hughes (1939-2017) – had 13 caps for the Socceroos between 1965 and 1967, captaining the team on seven occasions.

Rosemary Lassig (1941-2017) – swimmer who won a relay silver medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Allan Lawrence (1939-2017) – distance runner who won a bronze medal in the 10,000-metre race at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

John McMillan (1938-2017) – played 65 VFL games for St Kilda from 1959 to 1964.

Dean Mercer (1969-2017) – surf life saver who won the Australian open ironman titles four times. The first was in 1989, with the other three coming between 1995 and 1997.

John Monckton (1938 -2017) – swimmer who won silver medal in 100m backstroke at 1956 Melbourne Olympics and two gold medals at the 1958 British Empire Games.

Drew Morphett OAM (1948-2017) – sports broadcaster who worked for the ABC and Seven Network.

Les Murray AM (1945-2017) – football commentator with SBS from 1980 to 2014. He coined the phrase ‘the World Game’.


Wally O’Connell (1923-2017) – played ten rugby league Tests from 1948 to 1951 and was captain-coach of Manly from 1950 to 1952. He coached Queensland in 1973.

Jack Purtell (1921-2017) – jockey who rode three Melbourne Cup winners – 1947 (Hiraji), 1953 (Wodalla) and 1954 (Rising Fast).

Lou Richards MBE (1923-2017) – 250 VFL games for Collingwood including as captain from 1952 to 1955. He since was a highly regarded media commentator and personality.

Gillian Rolton OAM (1956-2017) – equestrian rider who won gold medals in team eventing at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Merv Rose AM (1930-2017) – tennis player who won the Australian Open in 1954 and French Open in 1958.

Lou Rowan (1925-2017) – Cricket umpire who officiated in 25 Tests between 1963 and 1971. He umpired in the first one day international at the MCG in 1971.

Blair Smith (1971-2017) – played almost 300 National Basketball League games from 1993 to 2007. He was a member of the Melbourne Tigers 1997 championship team.

Harry Sullivan (1932-2017) – 109 VFL games Carlton and Collingwood and was a member of 1958 Collingwood premiership team.


Darryl Sutton (1952-2017) – played 111 VFL games for three clubs – North Melbourne (91), Richmond (6) and Sydney Swans (14) from 1973 to 1983.

Dan Vickerman (1979-2017) – rugby union player born in South Africa and played 63 Tests for the Wallabies from 2002 to 2011.

John Watts (1937-2017) – played for East Perth (166 games) in the WAFL, Geelong (52) in VFL and Hobart (53). Also became a media personality after retirement.

Gary West (1960-2017) – track cyclist and coach. He coached Anna Meares to gold and bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics respectively.

Stephen Woolridge OAM (1977-2017) – track racing cyclist who was a member of the team pursuit which won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He also won four gold medals in the team pursuit at the world championships.

David Woods (1944-2017) – water polo player at the 1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal Olympics, before becoming head coach of the Australian men’s and women’s national teams.

Notable Australian sporting deaths in 2016.

Finally, my thoughts are with the families and friends of athletes who died playing sport in 2017.