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Australian Rules Football in India

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by ARFAI,


Published: 21st April, 2013.


The Indian Tigers after their maiden International Cup appearance in Melbourne, 2008

The look of sheer surprise on the faces of Indian sport lovers when you mention Footy is completely justified. In a nation whose population is predominantly influenced by cricket and football, Australian Rules Football (popularly coined as Footy with reference to the ball) is as alien to them as the Aussie accent itself! But times are changing…and fast.

Back in 2008, when Ricky Ponting started cross-promoting the sport while at Kolkata Knight Riders, it marked the beginning of a period of swift progress in terms of popularity, and today Footy is being kicked around by more than 1000 players spread across 5 states. What is even more encouraging is the fact that a team representing India, called Indian Tigers, has participated in the last 2 International Cups (the Footy equivalent of World Cup), even managing their first victory against East Timor in the 2011 edition.

Instrumental to this progress has been the undeterred commitment of young Sudip Chakraborty, presently functioning as the Secretary General of Australian Rules Football Association in India. Taking a strong interest in the sport in 2008, he continued his voluntary association with the sport, working towards its development. In the process, he went on to lead India at the International Cup in 2011. Sudip put a lot on hold to operate as the official contact in India for the governing body of the Australian Football League (AFL), which has its headquarters in Melbourne.

Sudip has been a part of the Indian Tigers team since 2008, and in the same year the team representing India made its international debut against the Chinese Demons, as preparation for the International Cup ’08. India gave a good showing in IC08, pushing the Finland Icebreakers and the Chinese Demons to nail-biting finishes. But the greatest positive from the tournament was perhaps the opinion of AFL dignitaries, who regarded the performance of the Tigers as the best showing by a debutant in an IC.

The build up to the International Cup in 2011 saw a flurry of activities, including a visit from the legendary Brett Kirk of Sydney Swans and a first sponsorship from Lingona Pvt. Ltd. The International Cup 2011 itself stood witness to the remarkable progress made by the Tigers as they fought their way to a maiden international victory, beating East Timor 9-6-60 to 8-5 -53 in a thrilling encounter. Nail-biting finishes against the Chinese Demons and the Peace Team (Israel and Palestine combined) ensured the Tigers a finish above the Demons and East-Timors in the final rankings. Celebrations ensued and the foundations were well and truly laid for concrete future progress.

The development work got more impetus and gathered speed as more support flowed in for Sudip’s endeavours. Rajeev Tharani, the Secretary of Kozhikode District Olympic Association in Kerala and a personality dedicated towards development of 8 different sports in the state, expressed his interest in promoting Aussie Rules Football in his state.

Perhaps the most unfathomed, yet welcome support of all came from the Trade Commissioner for Australian Trade Commision in India, Tom Calder. A Footy fanatic and ex-footy player himself, he took out time to personally help Sudip in his efforts, and over the months has developed a fantastic working relationship with the people on-board, especially Sudip.


Action during the inaugural National Championship AFL India-OGM Cup at Calicut in December 2012

Like most sporting propagation agendas, Footy in India also desired some much needed inspiration from foreign lands, and it duly arrived in the form of Lincoln Harris of Australia Unbound and Rick Shrowder of Global Community Sports, who helped along the development through social angles and education in Mumbai and Madurai respectively. However, the push really came to shove through the sweat and toil of local lad Sudip who travelled his way all around the country, sowing the seeds of Footy and digging out potential takers.

30th November 2012 witnessed a momentous event for Footy in India. In a meeting held in Calicut, the decision to form a national federation for Australian Rules Football in India was made and the formalities were taken care of that very day. Mr. P.A.Hamza, Joint Secretary of the Indian Olympic Association, also lent a helping hand and his presence as the President of the Indian federation will surely help the cause. Footy in India has not looked back since.

In December 2012, Kozhikode hosted the first National Championship where 5 teams participated. Teams representing Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala contested for the OGM Cup, inaugurated by Dr. Muneer, honourable Minister of Social Welfare and Panchayat, Government of Kerala. The final saw two teams from Kerala fight for the cup, with North Kozhikode Bombers defeating the South Kozhikode Giants to clinch the trophy.

Recent development has seen AFL-India spreading its wings to Gujarat where the interest in the sport has reached the pinnacle of political setup with the Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, himself expressing his desire to facilitate developments. The past few weeks have also seen significant progress regarding financial support and professional setup.

The present may leave much to the imagination but the steady progress is a mark for a brighter future and it is the belief to challenge the best in the sport that will surely drive the likes of Sudip and co. into bigger, swifter developments.