FootyWILD set to take Africa by storm?
Monday, June 08 2009 @ 08:45 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
There is no doubt that AFL South Africa has been a stunning success so far. They are spending a year consolidating their amazing growth of up around 17,000 players across a number of communities, seeking to expand within those fixed programs rather than roll out further areas. It has been speculated before that if the program is successful then the AFL may look to other African nations. The big questions are what defines success and might they spend a decade proving the long term viability before any further moves?
For those that feared an undue level of conservatism it is pleasing to report that the AFL has already begun to look at other opportunities. Or more accurately, other African countries are looking to the AFL. We were aware of discussions with media from several other African countries in terms of showcasing the game, but the AFL Talent Manager Kevin Sheehan has revealed to worldfootynews.com that Botswana and Kenya are the front runners for FootyWILD programs, with Ghana also in the mix.
There are plenty of historical examples of Australian football getting a toehold only to disappear with barely a trace, and as such Sheehan confirmed that the AFL's focus is on making AFL South Africa "bullet-proof", but the interest coming from other countries can't be ignored. While the AFL wasn't actively seeking further African nations as partners in the next few years, with governments approaching them for support, they will help where they can. The AFL's Auskick program has been rolled out in South Africa as FootyWILD and it seems to be ready to take on a life of its own.
Botswana and Kenya
Sheehan explains, "We've actually had approaches on numerous occasions including from their High Commission, we had them down about two or three weeks ago along with Jason McCartney and Phil Martin is our government liaison officer and Jason in his role had... coached South Africa in the International Cup. We had members of their High Commission down at the MCG and the next day they attended the Carlton - Collingwood match and that was the second delegation that's had a look and their government's very very keen to see FootyWILD move from South Africa into Botswana. It's right on the border of the North West province. We're just in the process of putting a formal submission to their government. We're very keen to do it, AFL South Africa is, to experiment into the first of, we think, a number of African countries in the next period. Botswana will be the first and we'll take a demonstration of what FootyWILD is in there over the next couple of months... they've had a good look at what we're doing in South Africa and think this particular sport would really be embraced by the locals".
A move into Botswana would probably be driven by the current division of AFL South Africa in North West province. Another positive force has been the Johannesburg campus of Australia's Monash University. "Many Botswanan students go to Monash University... they run FootyWILD there at that university and are very keen to expand their interest in and their support of our game at Monash University and so part of it would be to train the Botswana students that come to Uni and then go back and take the program in their country. There's quite a detailed submission being prepared at the moment by Joel Kelly our Football Operations Manager in South Africa, for Botswana".
Kenya is also on track, with a small informal program and likely to get more support, without impacting the main focus of South Africa. "We're trying to develop and become, I suppose, bullet-proof in South Africa with what we're doing, and of course we're just in four provinces there, but we'll have close to 20,000 players or participants by the end of this year and we'll be considering our own expansion within the other provinces of South Africa, but we are obviously courting the interest that we're receiving from other countries who are hearing about the game; on their visits to Australia they can't ignore Australian Rules footy, they're hearing about it through their networks, and so at this stage all we're doing is having some of their diplomats guest at games and spending some time explaining the game to them. There's been quite and a number and Kenya will be next when they come in next weekend".
Media representatives from several other nations have also been in talks with the AFL. In a press release the week before last, the AFL had meetings with five senior journalists from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, as part of the International Media Visits program, run by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. At this stage we believe no formal programs are planned with Nigeria and Tanzania, but there is a possibility with Ghana - more on that later.
Government support and wider growth
Clearly there are a lot of opportunities emerging in part assisted by the declaration last year by the new Federal Government that Australian football was an export product. Sheehan again, "It's obviously a topic of strong conversation within our Government, we've worked very closely with Simon Crean and his department. We see Australian football as an obvious great product of Australia that we should be sharing now with even more countries. Through no great push of ours, as you know, probably up to 40 countries having a kick at some level. And so in the next decade that's certain to increase very rapidly. We're now approaching 50,000 players that play around the world in various competitions and we're strengthening our licence agreements with a number of those countries, even more countries, as we look at what might unfold in the next decade".
It is early days yet, but it could be that within 12 months Botswana, Kenya and Ghana will have joined the ranks of nations with significant Aussie Rules (or is that FootyWILD) development programs in place.