The Roar
The Roar


In memoriam: Notable sporting deaths of 2023 - saying goodbye to legends who’ve left us

Ron Barassi. (Getty Images)
8th December, 2023

As part of The Roar’s series looking back at the notable events of 2023, it’s time to say a final farewell to sporting legends who left us.

AFL icon Ron Barassi’s death in September led to a flood of tributes for the player and coach who gained nationwide fame over his glorious career.

The first player to be inaugurated into the AFL Hall of Fame as a Legend – and one of just four Australian Rules footballers to achieve Legend status into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – Barassi played 253 senior VFL games in his career, including 204 for Melbourne and 49 for Carlton.

Between playing and coaching, Barassi claimed 10 premierships at Melbourne, Carlton and North Melbourne, with two as Demons captain in 1960 and 1964.

But it is as a coach where Barassi’s most profound impact on the game came, with his role in Carlton’s inspired comeback from 44 points down at half time to win the 1970 grand final one of the then-VFL’s most iconic ever matches.

One of football’s greatest revolutionaries, among Barassi’s masterstrokes was a greater focus on handpassing over kicking, which still holds true in the modern game.

Sailing royalty Syd Fischer passed away in February at the age of 95, a few days shy of turning 96. Known as Australian yachting’s greatest tactician, he made the Sydney to Hobart trek 42 times right up until his late 80s.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: John Sattler talks to the media during a NRL Grand Final media opportunity at Rugby League Central on October 3, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

John Sattler in 2014. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)


Rugby league hardman John Sattler, who famously played the majority of the 1970 Grand Final with a broken jaw. A member of the NRL Hall of Fame, he died in March, aged 80. The former forward had been diagnosed with dementia three years ago. Sattler, who grew up in Newcastle, played 346 first-class matches, including 195 for Souths from 1963-72, highlighted by four premiership victories as captain.

Australian cricket said farewell to several notable players:

Brian Taber: aged 83 in July. He played 16 Tests as a wicketkeeper from 1966-70.

Brian Booth: aged 89 in May. The NSW batter scored five tons in 29 Tests in the 1960s as part of a lengthy career at first-class level which totalled 183 matches, including 26 centuries.

Ken Archer: aged 95 in April. He played five Tests in the early 1950s as part of an 82-match first-class career for Queensland.

Faith Coulthard: aged 90, in April. The first Indigenous woman to represent Australia, she played against England in 1958.


Norma Johnston: aged 95, in January. A pioneer of women’s cricket, she played seven Tests from 1948-51. The all-rounder scored 151 runs at an average of 25.16 and took 22 wickets at 20.54.

Renowned doubles tennis player Owen Davidson died in May, aged 79. Born in Melbourne, he won eight Grand Slam titles, forming a successful mixed doubles union with Billie Jean King in the 1960s and 70s.

Australian golf champion Frank Phillips passed away at the age of 90 in May. A dual winner of the Australian Open, he played in the Masters twice, in the US Open and at the Open Championship, achieving his best major championship finish, 12th at St Andrews in 1964.

The racing community was in mourning in April following the death of jockey Dean Holland, who died after he involved in a two-horse fall at Donald, in country Victoria.

Socceroos great Manfred Schaefer died in March, aged 80. A national representative on 73 occasions, he was inducted into the Football Australia Hall of Fame and was a member of the famous 1974 squad which played in the World Cup for the first time.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: A tribute to the late Sir Bobby Charlton is show on the big screen at half the trophy and celebrates time during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge on October 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

A tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton on the big screen at halftime of the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

English football mourned Bobby Charlton in October after his passing at the age of 86. Considered one of the finest players in history, he was a key member of the 1966 World Cup-winning squad.


Australia’s first openly gay Olympican, Simon Dunn, died in January at the age of 35. He competed at the Winter Olympics in bobsleigh and also played for Sydney’s gay rugby club, the Sydney Convicts.

Wallabies stalwart Rob Heming died in Manly in January, aged 90. The rugged forward represented Australia in 21 Tests in the 1960s and was last year inducted into Rugby Australia’s hall of fame.

And last but not least, she was not a performer on the sports field but Tina Turner made such an impact on rugby league through the iconic advertising campaigns of the early 1990s that the tributes flowed from the NRL when the American rock star died in May, aged 83.