Winds of change in AFL's key international country

Monday, December 24 2007 @ 04:58 pm ACDT

Contributed by: Brett Northey

There's no question that South Africa is the AFL's number one priority in terms of international development of Australian Football. The past couple of years have seen a significant roll out of support programs, some direct funding, and assistance in gaining major sponsorship from corporations such as Tattersal's and Costa Logistics.

Although there are many other programs being developed around the world, both with and without AFL support, the short term successful rise of Aussie Rules internationally would seem to be most closely tied to the South Africa experiment. So it is with great interest to see recent political changes in that country, and the predictions of possible future effects which analysts are now in demand to explain.

Since the fall of apatheid the Rainbow Nation has been ruled by the dominant African National Congress party, firstly by Nelson Mandela and more recently by Thabo Mbeki. Mandela was rightfully a favourite of the world's media and helped ensure a remarkably smooth transition. Mbeki has been more controversial, most notably when he appeared to suggest there may be no link between HIV and AIDS, a disease that grips his country. But overall the country has continued to move forward, with wealth slowly spreading and most key indicators showing that the economy is doing well across the board.

However calls for a faster redistribution of wealth are always present, and poorer communities are less patient for obvious reasons. Jacob Zuma reportedly has wider appeal in such socio-economic groups, as well as amongst the ethnically Zulu people (Mandela and Mbeki are both of Xhosa origin). Zuma has now been elected President of the ANC and is seen as headed for the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa. Some analysts believe that such an outcome could trigger a wave of "middle class" socio-economic South Africans departing the country, as happened after the end of apatheid but had slowed in recent years. Analysts also predict foreign investment could plunge, given some of the rhetoric from Zuma and his supporters with fears they may bypass the standard capitalist market systems in place.

Such a dramatic change to the economy could have a major impact on Australian Football in the RSA. A drop in resources and investment from companies currently positioning themselves in the African market would have severe effects on the development of the game and jeopardise the sport's push.

However Zuma is not certain to become South Africa's next President. He will have to continue to gain widespread support, and must also fight off legal charges relating to alleged corruption. Zuma has already seen off rape allegations in a trial that gripped the nation a couple of years ago, in which he controversially claimed that he was not at risk after having had unprotected sex with the alleged victim, who was HIV positive, because he showered afterwards.

If Zuma becomes leader of his country, it's possible his actions will not be as radical as his supporters voice. But certainly South African politics is poised for a major change of direction, and its effect on Australian Football in that country remains to be seen. Presumably the AFL will be watching with interest, as will FIFA, with the soccer World Cup to be staged there in 2010. Let's hope whatever the outcome, our sport continues to grow and provide resources and investment, especially in the impoverished areas of South Africa which greatly appreciate the assistance they receive.

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