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AFL Extends Reach To India

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by ARFAI,


Published: December, 2012.

578c9b19c5India will play host to its very first Australian Football tournament next month, but it’s not the first time the country has been exposed to the AFL.

The tentacles of Australian Football are ever-expanding, even in parts of the globe that once appeared impenetrable. And here’s another example of the game’s extraordinary reach and impact.

On December 1 and 2, cricket-mad India will host its first Australian Football tournament. Adding to the surreal nature of the event, Australian cricket great Steve Waugh is the tournament ambassador.

The AFL push into India is not a recent development. AFL India has existed in different guises for several years, and organised games have been played there since 2007.

‘Captain Kirk’s Odyssey’ – a 2011 tour by Sydney premiership player Brett Kirk, then the AFL’s international ambassador – gave the sport a decent kick-along, and not just in India, but also South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Richmond has also been active in trying to make inroads into what it sees as a vast, untapped market. The Tigers have plans to play an exhibition game in India, and have been pulling out all stops to garner local support.

They hosted Bollywood superstar actress Vidya Balan at their round seven clash with Sydney at the MCG, and have enlisted Indian cricket star Rahul Dravid as patron of their Indian Tigers supporter group.

Dravid is one of Waugh’s greatest admirers. They are firm friends who catch up for dinner whenever their paths cross – a possibility during the Indian footy tournament.

Such non-cricket ambassadorial roles are not foreign to Waugh, who mentored the Socceroos during the 2007 Asian Cup and the Australian Olympic team in Beijing in 2008.


And AFL isn’t entirely foreign to the former Australian captain. In February, he spoke to the newly installed leadership group at Greater Western Sydney.

Raised in Sydney’s south-western suburbs, Waugh sees great merit in the AFL’s push into rugby territory.

His involvement in the Indian footy initiative is a considerable departure from the norm for him, largely because of the setting. But in many ways the 47-year-old is the ideal candidate for the role.

Waugh is fascinated by India, which holds for him both good and bad memories: the disappointment of never winning a Test series there is soothed somewhat by his love of the culture and the people.

But strangely, after touring the sub-continent on numerous occasions as a cricketer, this time Waugh’s journey will involve a much bigger red leather ball.

And the sport he will promote is perhaps accessible to more people than his chosen sport. (There is less financial outlay for equipment, for a start.) Indeed, competition organisers trumpet in a press release that teams will comprise “players from the slums of Mumbai, middleclass Indian teenagers and affluent uni students”.

Organised by AFL India, in conjunction with Global Community Sports and Reclink Australia, the competition will feature teams from the cities of Madurai, Mumbai and host Kozhikode. They will don the colours of Richmond (of course), Essendon, Geelong, North Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney.

About 10 games will be played in a round-robin format over the two days, culminating in a grand final. The winning team will earn bragging rights as national champions.

There are also some individual rewards on offer. Players will have the chance to push for selection in the national side (the India Tigers) for the next AFL International Cup, and one lucky player will be chosen to travel to Australia as part of a football exchange program.

The event is the result of a three-year campaign by AFL India to promote the sport. It will be sponsored by the Perth-based Oil and Gas Mining Institute and Australia Unlimited.

Sudip Chakraborty – the AFL India president who doubles as captain of his national team – describes the competition as “a dream come true”.

He harbours a much bigger dream: that of creating enough attention in the Australian game to attract widespread interest and participation, school programs, and the biggie – establishing an “all-India league”. All within five years.

Considering the atmosphere Indian fans create at big cricket matches, that would be something to behold.