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AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself


Australian Football in Vanuatu has been taking baby steps for a couple of years – however, over the last 12-18 months momentum has increased and the newly incorporated AFL Vanuatu is sending 5 young boys to Tonga to join the All Stars squad in the Oceania Under 16s tournament starting next week.

AFL Vanuatu has grown on the efforts of some dedicated individuals such as Justin Johnson and more recently Malcolm Thiel.

Thiel is a 47 year old Adelaide ‘native’ who (in July 2009) moved his family (wife and 4 daughters) to Vanuatu. Via involvement at a local high school, he was able to become involved in Auskick clinics at the school. This was enough to re-ignite the footy passion.

Thiel was able to start up another Auskick program in a local village and joined with some expats in a weekly REC footy activity. Via the efforts in Vanuatu to meet AFL criteria, the AFL Vanuatu has become incorporated, and the goal now is to establish two permanent teams initially, so as to develop competitive games.

Mal has since returned to Australia (where he has a trucking business in Adelaide) but he continues to return about every month to Port Vila to continue his volunteer work at the local high school and as part of the AFL Vanuatu committee, he has an assistant coaching role.

For the upcoming Oceania Cup in Tonga, AFL Vanuatu has been raising funds (about $7000) to send 5 lads to Tonga. Fund raising has been undertaken in Adelaide, as well, two local sponsors, Van Corp Construction and Traders Nightclub have assisted. The 5 lads are pictured below, from left to right, Charlie, Jonathon, Kilip, Robert and Robin. Mal will travel with the team to Tonga.

Mal takes it up :
I find it exciting to help offer these boys an unthought-of opportunity to experience genuine AFL games as well to broaden their exposure outside their villages.
These boys live in jungle villages and so far have had such limited exposure to the game, yet they play with breath-taking skill and technique. Most walk 10 kilometres or take a 50-vatu bus ride (approx 50cents) to come to training and games. When they don’t turn up it is because they don’t have the money.
Going to Tonga is important on a number of levels, apart from what it represents for these young men. While AFL Vanuatu might be in its infancy, this is an opportunity to demonstrate its serious intent, and that it has the potential to grow rapidly and the growth is led in a consolidated manner.

Justin Johnson tells the story :
One of the young boys, Robert, is only 14 years old. He has struggled every week to earn his bus fare to get to training. He sells coconuts on the side of the road to get $1.50 together so he can train. As his coach pointed out to me, selling coconuts to people in Vanuatu is a lot like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo!

None of them have ever even had a kick at a goal on a proper field or played a game with a qualified umpire. There are a lot of ‘firsts’ for these boys over the next two months....
It will be the first time overseas for any of the boys.

On behalf of WFN and our readers, I’d like to wish the boys all the best. With the Solomon Islands ‘graduating’ to sending their first full team to this tournament, hopefully within a couple of years we might see a full Vanuatu squad attending a future Oceania Cup.

Obviously all this costs money, and time, and effort. Anyone able to assist can be put in contact with AFL Vanuatu via WFN.

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AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Harley Vague on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 03:36 AM CST

Once again a very good news story but I'm saddenned or dismayed when grassroots opportunities are being missed because of paltry amounts such as 50c bus faires especially in the formative stages .
Would a development officer be able to direct small cash amounts in cases like this ?

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Michael Christiansen on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 04:24 AM CST


I'm so glad you mentioned it. This surely must be the challenge for the amateur (I'm thinking some of the VAFA clubs I've played with/against) and other local footy clubs to realise that they can make a difference.

How hard for a local club to 'sponsor' half a dozen players in Vanuatu - - you could imagine even just AU$20 per player would go a long way. Small amounts to help in the day to day.

It's a far bigger ask to search out AU$1,000s to assist with the big ticket items - but, surely at the local level there must be something any of us can help facilitate on this front.

When talking about every 50 cents helps - - that starts making the old 'swear' jar look like a lifeline.

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Brett Northey on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 04:49 AM CST

I agree it's sad that someone might be unable to train for the sake of a small (by our standards) bus fare, but it's also heartening to see kids making such an effort, and if such programs are to be replicated in 1000s of villages across Oceania then perhaps they need to be self-sustaining like that. In other words, occasional big ticket items to get teams to tournaments might be more important than handouts to fund all the little day to day costs of individual players. I don't know, just a thought.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Cam Homes on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 06:03 AM CST

Tend to agree with Brett a bit. To sponsor a player(help him/her to get to a high level tournament) is a huge incentive and reward for the effort/time/sweat that the kid can manage in 'his' circumstances.
I would love to see the league clubs around Australia all sponsor 'a' player from some where else in the world to get to a test or IC or Oceania or European Champs etc.
Most clubs just have to be convinced of the medium to long term benefits that will come with the expansion of our game around the world.

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Michael Christiansen on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 08:20 AM CST

It's a fine line isn't it - and the AFL has certainly pushed self sustainability ahead of 'paid loyalties' - which means there's no off shore drip feeding and now mercenary style loyalty until the money runs out.
THe result is pretty clear to see - that those playing and involved in the game are doing it for all the right reasons. So, certainly - you'd have to tread carefully to not eroded that. However, if lads show interest but just can't sustain the 'expense/effort' and are lured to other more 'cashed up' codes - then, there'd be an issue to address.

I guess the main thing is to open up the channels of communication - so that Mal and Justin could alert the broader community of any issues they are having - - - such that they may only need advice/guidance, or, there might be funding options or whatever.

What I'd like to see is more Convicts or convicts style tours. There's probably no reason a 'Splinter Convicts' couldn't run trips around the South Pacific playing games and coaching on a more regular basis and most likely somewhat cheaper.

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Brett Northey on Saturday, December 11 2010 @ 08:33 AM CST

Yeah, I certainly think fundraising is necessary for those bigger ticket items. And you'd like to think that at some point the AFL would fund the best few players from each country to attend academies etc - it gives their clubs more player options, it grows the game's international flavour which must help in areas like GWS, etc. I believe they already do fund some of that, but for the best young players you'd hope it would become just a given. But maintaining wider competitions, that will always come from locals, be it in Vanuatu, Auckland, Madrid, Adelaide, Perth, ....

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Justin Johnson on Sunday, December 12 2010 @ 06:36 PM CST

Funding is certainly a huge challenge for us in Vanuatu, particularly as we are dealing with a very small economy and very high unemployment rates (at least in the cash traditional sense of things......but thats another story entirely)

Mals idea to approach footy nuts in Australia to assist financially has worked this time - and the boys really appreciate the opportunity that its created - but we need to find better ways to keep things aflot into the future.

I cannot fault the AFL's approach or support - they have been supurb in every respect.

As an example, Vanuatu could field players to enter next years International Cup however I estimate that the campaign will cost about $30,000. Furthermore we will probably get flogged but thats not really as important as the experience that would be gained. Any suggestions here would be appreciated!

The other big challenge in Vanuatu is exposure to the game. Locals are soccer-crazy and there has not been any AFL on the local channels. Only expats can get the games via satelite broadcasts. Next year this will change though as ABC have launched a new channel in Vanautu which will show a couple of games live per week.

AFL Vanuatu has also entered into discussions with the government (who unfortunately changed last week) to build a multi sports facility which will include an AFL ground. Believe me we are seriously starting from scratch in this country!

Justin - President - AFL Vanuatu

AFL Vanuatu is born, and uses Tonga trip to announce itself
Authored by: Brett Northey on Monday, December 13 2010 @ 08:40 AM CST

It's a tough call isn't it. AUD$30,000 is a lot to raise. Would the payoff be enough? The same AUD$30,000 could do so much in Vanuatu instead of spent on travel, but then WOULD that money ever get raised then?

Germany have a regular league but continue to not attend the International Cup, with the main argument (I believe) being the money would be better spent on the league in Germany - but is it? Probably not. But would there be a post-IC let down if they did attend? Maybe.

I'd love to see Germany and Vanuatu in 2011, but each nation has to decide what is best for itself.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN