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Friday, October 23 2020 @ 04:04 am ACDT

Cup dates proposed as AFL ponders divisions

International Cup 2008

NZ versus PNG on the video scoreboard at the MCG in 2005

The AFL has released its preferred dates for the 2008 Australian Football International Cup, with late August and early September selected. Initial expressions of interest have been received from 15 to 20 countries, though some of those have acknowledged that they are not likely starters. The AFL has also put forth a proposal to split the teams into two divisions, recognising the very different stages of development around the world. Also sure to create much debate is the possibility of the inclusion of several teams drawn from some of Melbourne's ethnic minorities.

The need to split the International Cup field into two divisions has always been a question of when not if. Firstly, with a limited time frame in which amateur players can afford to be away from home, the competition can't be allowed to blow out to more than two weeks, so multiple pools have been used in the past. But that system saw all the nations still competing amongst each other, with the potential for the best to come up against the absolute rookies. With countries at such differing levels of development around the world, the tournament would risk too many games being decided by huge margins as newer nations find themselves uncompetitive against those more established. As such the AFL's International Cup organising committee has suggested an upper and lower division, along the lines of a premier group playing off for the main prize and a second, developmental group. They've asked possible attendees for their opinions and initial requests for which division countries would like to be in. We can't reveal the details, but there are a few surprises - time will tell whether the final lists remain the same.

A reasonable target seems to be 16 nations, with 8 teams in each division (premier and developmental), which would allow the two respective divisions to be split into pools of 4. AFL Auskick and International Coordinator Josh Vanderloo explained that although 16 would work well, from the AFL's perspective the more the better. "Sixteen was just an optimal number. We will not turn away any countries from participating it was more of a goal to challenge ourselves to get sixteen as that in itself will be a large increase". At the inaugural Cup in 2002 there were 11 competing nations, with a drop back to 10 in 2005 with the withdrawal of Nauru and Denmark due to financial and player availability issues.

The countries that have expressed an interest so far are believed to be the 12 nations that have attended one or both of the first two Cups, and 7 newcomers. Plus the AFL are currently having negotiations with at least one further group in Europe and other countries should note that it is not too late to consider attending.

Previous attendees that have expressed an interest

New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
United States
South Africa
Spain (to be confirmed)

Newcomers that have expressed an interest

Czech Republic
Catalonia (preliminary discussions)

Realistically some of those countries will be relying on slightly relaxed rules, with some of the ideas discussed in our earlier story (AFL and Countries ponder eligibility rules for 2008) yet to be finalised. The most likely outcome would be that relaxed rules would apply for the so-called development division, maintaining the premier division rules from previous Cups (or very close to them), as is believed to be the wish of most of the nations likely to be in that group.

Slightly disappointingly a few hoped for countries don't appear in the above list. Germany, recently victorious over Sweden in Berlin, are an obvious omission. Although it isn't too late for that to change, their absence would be no surprise as key member Malte Schudlich explained to WFN back in 2005 that the AFLG considered the large costs involved could be better spent developing the game in Germany. He made a persuasive case to that effect in our story Germany - potential powerhouse of European footy? (although please note the article is now nearly two years old), although there are no doubt also benefits from participation and from the selfish view of someone going to watch the '08 Cup, it would still be nice to see them there.

France, Indonesia, Pakistan and Argentina are all believed to have small domestic leagues or clubs that may have been a possibility but appear unlikely to be ready by next year. The other big hope for significant growth is India, but they have continued to be frustrated by Australia's restrictive visa system with regard to bringing coaching staff to Australia for training, despite attempts to assist by the AFL, and the game is still only in its infancy.

The Proposed Dates (subject to change)

Wednesday 27 August Round 1 Melbourne
Friday 29 August Round 2 Melbourne
Friday 29 or Saturday 30 August Official function, Melbourne (depends on AFL fixture)
Friday 29 or Saturday 30 August Parade of teams at AFL match (depends on AFL fixture)
Sunday 31 August Travel to regional Victoria
Monday 1 September Round 3 regional Victoria
Monday 1 September Casual function regional Victoria
Wednesday 3 September Semi Finals regional Victoria
Thursday 4 September Travel back to Melbourne
Saturday 6 September Finals (*)

* Opportunity for Grand Final to be played as curtain raiser to AFL final will depend on finals fixture which will not be confirmed until after Round 22 of 2008.

Depending on several factors, the AFL may consider inviting some of Melbourne's ethnic minorities to enter teams in the developing nations division, with a view to fast-tracking their immersion in Australian Football in Victoria. We'll have more on this later.

The two proposed regional rounds could be in Warrnambool and/or the Bellarine Peninsula. An obvious appeal of heading this way is to enable countries to experience a beautiful part of Australia, in particular the Great Ocean Road. There would also be the prospect of playing matches at Skilled Stadium, home of AFL club the Geelong Cats. All these details are preliminary and subject to change as the AFL explores the possibilities.

Although the exact dates are subject to change, it's highly likely the third Australian Football International Cup will indeed be held in the two weeks spanning the end of August and beginning of September 2008. International footy fans can now start thinking seriously about making the trip to Melbourne to witness the steady rise of the great Australian game. And for Melburnians, this is certainly a great opportunity to show the world just how passionate about the game you are, by getting out and supporting these teams whose players will range in ability from relative novices through to very polished footballers, all of whom will be putting everything on the line for their country. Bring on 2008.

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