Contributed by: Aaron Richard
After stumbling across footage of AFL matches on Argentine TV in the early 90s, Ricardo Acuña, now president of the Argentine Alternative Sports Association, started to think of ways to kick start the code in Buenos Aires.
In 1997 the first game of Aussie Rules was played in the Argentine capital. The league has consolidated, growing to include juniors and schools - but Acuña's next goals include spreading throughout the rest of Latin America.
As Acuña recalls the first response most Argentines had when they came across the game on TV - watching footage that had been edited as a documentary of the world's most brutal sport. 'They only showed the most spectaculars marks, bumps and terrible tackles. This was my first contact'. Accordingly, most people watched the footage as a curiosity - but realising that the whole sport wasn't like this, Acuña took a closer look and decided that the game would be ideal for Argentina.
After some investigation, he decided in found the Argentine Australian Football Association (AAFAU). The competition kicked off in 1997 with a group of 3 teams with about 30 or 40 players, mainly Rugby Union players. This has now grown to four stable senior sides in Buenos Aires, an under19s side associated with each of the senior teams, and a growing number of juniors and school squads.
The development has been helped greatly by Acuña's position as head of the Argentine Alternative Sports Association - where Aussie Rules has been a huge hit at alternative sports expos. 'We don't have the benefit of having TV coverage, so this is the most efficient way for us to grow. We're hoping for more assistance in future from the AFL or another body in Australia to push it further'. Part of pushing it further includes Acuña's plan for a regional office for Aussie Rules based in Buenos Aires.
'My idea is to make Argentina a centre for development in Uruguay, Chile (where Adrian Zimmerman has already been working to start something), Peru, Venezuela and Mexico. I have contacts in all these countries in the Alternative Sports Association - but not yet specifically in Aussie Rules.
'Regarding the possibility of Argentina appearing at the International Cup, our main focus is on 2008. We unfortunately don't have the funds to attend in 2005, however I can see a World 9s competition in Argentina in 2005 being a real possibility.
'So, to recap, our goals are -
1) Latin American Regional Office for development, with AFL support
2) 8 teams in 2006/2007
3) 300 players in 2006/2007
4) Compete at the International Cup in 2008
5) Organize a major Aussie Rules event in Argentina, in 2005 or 2006.
As the first Aussie Rules organisation in Latin America, the AAFAU has been building itself from the ground up. With help from Australia at times notoriously hard to come by it may be a hard road, but Acuña's ambitious vision is not by any means an impossibility and he has already shown how it is possible. Perhaps as part of the worldwide Alternative Sports movement the Australian game has a bright future.
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