Contributed by: Brett NortheyAs 2004 comes to an end, World Footy News reflects on another interesting year in the international growth of Australian Football, having a look at some of the ups and downs and interesting stories.
The game continued to grow in the past year, with most countries appearing to increase numbers. The Irish league stumbled with two sides not seeing out the season, but they finished with plans to revive them and introduce two more clubs in 2005. And of course Aisake O'hAilpin moving to join his brother Setanta at Carlton was a big story in both Ireland and Australia. Britain saw increased numbers in the Regional league, again, with some hiccups, and the first ever Scottish season. We also look forward to the re-launch of the BARFL website.
Continental Europe had encouraging signs with the German AFL expanding to 5 teams and the Central European Championships featuring start-up sides from Austria, Belgium and France (against the slightly more established Germany and Spain).
Re-structuring continues in Denmark and southern Sweden, as the DAFL finds the best formula to support existing clubs without too much travel, and provide competition for some of the juniors starting to come through, especially via Farum. In Sweden, the Stockholm competition commenced and matches also got underway in Göteborg.
Across the Atlantic and expansion in Canada occurred with the Victoria Lions and Red Deer Magpies, and in the US perhaps the two most exciting developments were the Mojave Greens and the USAFL television deal. The Greens immediately managed to tap into the huge pool of fit young US military personnel who may be interested in a physically demanding but enjoyable contact sport like Australian football. This could be the start of a great new phase for footy in the US. The television deal negotiated with ASTN is also exciting. Planning continues, but it appears that in the first year, there will be a few weekends in which several clubs converge to each play two games, with the matches broadcast on free-to-air across the country, with potentially millions of viewers. On the downside the Californian AFL season collapsed after an attempt at a new format designed to help grow numbers. Some sort of West Coast league may emerge in 2005, and there are rumours of similar on the East Coast. There's also talk of Canadian sides competing in the US Nationals (would they then be called the North American Championships?).
A Japanese university-based side had a successful tour of Australia and the game is showing steady progress there with new sides in Osaka, and a university league established in Toyko. Another Asian highlight was the development of a local league on Java in Indonesia.
In the South Pacific region, Papua New Guinea continued to develop talented juniors who are now starting to filter into the Cairns league in Northern Australia. The New Zealand AFL revamped its website and continued its juniors push, and a move into the Waikato area south of Auckland. Samoa and Tonga both got development officers through the AusAID program, with help from the AFL and Brian Clarke's version of the IAFC respectively. TAFA held its first full season of footy, and sent a schoolboys tour to Samoa. Fiji has made its first steps into Australian football, with police playing, but is desperately hoping to get a development officer to build on their start. The Solomon Islands have also had beginnings.
The footy developments of recent years in South Africa finally received widespread attention in Australia. This was thanks largely to AFL club St Kilda doing part of their pre-season training there, and putting on clinics for local kids. Hundreds turned out and the Aussie media loved it. With plenty of press coverage, the AFL also took note, and suggested they may look at increasing their efforts in the region.
The AFL also confirmed that the 2005 International Cup will be held in Melbourne in August, with 12 countries attending - the same eleven as 2002 plus Spain.
On a less positive note, the long feud between Clarke and the AFL appears no closer to resolution. Under the disputed IAFC banner, Clarke announced new staff and expanded plans, and in an attempt to appease the AFL dramatically changed its policy to no longer seek world governing body status, thus hoping that the two bodies could work together given that they both have aided international development and will continue to do so. Unfortunately in a meeting with the AFL's Ed Biggs, the disputed IAFC's European General Manager presented this case but it was made clear to him that the AFL would not work with the body whilst still using the disputed name.
Not many internationals were played, with mainly a few friendlies. The notable exception was the US Revolution narrowly defeating the Northwind in Canada.
2004 also saw the birth of World Footy News. Many hundreds of hours of volunteer time have gone into providing this service, and we have received a lot of support from most of the leagues and clubs around the world. We hope we are doing our small part in raising the profile of the game wherever you are, and keeping your players interested in what is happening locally and afar. Hopefully we're also raising interest in Australia amongst the public and the media, and who knows, maybe the next Bill Gates will become a fan of the international game and help us all fast-track this sport to where we think it can go. All we ask in return from all our readers is that you visit back often, tell your friends and family about us, and encourage any relevant websites to link to us.
A lot happened for international Australian Football in 2004 and I'm sure to have missed some major events, so apologies for that. Let's hope 2005 is even bigger and better for international footy, and maybe we'll see a few of you at the International Cup in Melbourne in August.
World Footy News