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Saturday, June 06 2020 @ 07:51 pm ACST

Breakthrough package for South African footy


The Australian Football League appear to be following through on their commitment to footy in South Africa, with perhaps the biggest single increase in international Australian Football development in the game's history. This should result in a rapid expansion in staff and player numbers.

All the information coming out of AFL football circles recently had suggested that the league would significantly expand the African program, and today's news confirms that. After initial efforts in the late 1990s the program was fairly stagnant and development left to a handful of people. In the last two years, with the appointment of four local staff including a full time CEO, the groundwork was being laid for a much brighter future. Critically, the small group currently working for AFL South Africa have managed to bring in government and private partnerships, such as with the North West Cricket Association, showing that Aussie Rules can integrate with the local community and leverage multiple resources, not simply relying on AFL funding for all aspects. With the success of this arrangement, which could be considered to have been a "concept demonstrator", the AFL have now announced plans to expand the program dramatically.

The key announcements by the AFL are:

- the appointment of a football operations manager
- a call for four AFL clubs to partner with South African football clubs, businesses and local government
- a target of over 20000 players by 2009 (up from approximately 3000 now)
- an increase in South African football staff from four to 20 in the next 12 months
- the expansion of SA Kick (Auskick equivalent) to over 200 centres in South Africa by 2009 (in North West, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces)
- the screening of a weekly AFL highlights package on local pay television channel Supersport in 2007

All this is excellent news for the international development of the game. Of course other countries will watch with a degree of envy. The way forward for them is not so exciting. Currently it appears that the AFL will continue to require very promising, detailed but modest plans from its other affiliates. The degree of funding is likely to remain significantly lower for other nations. However, if one is to take an optimistic view, it has long been known that a lot of hard work needs to be done on the ground before any major commitment is made, but at least the recent announcement shows that funding and support may well be forthcoming in the future, particularly if the South African experiment is a resounding success. A successful outcome is certainly in everyone's interest.

The AFL's International and Talent Manager, Kevin Sheehan, is reported as saying that the AFL clubs that joined the drive into the region would have early access to identifying talented youngsters that could come to Australia through the International Scholarship Scheme, although they would not have exclusivity in the area. WFN recently spoke with Sheehan about the scheme and we'll have that report soon. More on the South African developments can be found in an article by Jason Phelan: New South Africa push.

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