Comments, Letters and International Footy
Wednesday, June 01 2011 @ 12:13 am ACST
Contributed by: Adam Bennett - AFL England President
If you keep up to speed with footy news in Australia and on this site, then you’ve probably come across comments by Hawthorn’s President, Jeff Kennett regarding how the AFL is being run at the moment, as well as his thoughts on the international development of the game. Soon after this came a thoughtful response from Mtutuzeli Hlomela, a South African player currently looking forward to the 2011 International Cup, which sparked my interest in the matter. Mtutuzeli’s letter put’s forward good counter-arguments and Mr Kennett’s remarks may have been heat-of-the-moment, but where do you see footy going in the next 25 years?
Let’s look at other sports across the world today. Sports you can make a direct comparison with such football and rugby – had their own humble beginnings back in the mists of time. The former consisted of dozens of people from neighbouring British villages getting the ‘ball’ from one point to another and the latter was invented when a football player took advantage of a loophole in the rules and used his hands rather than his feet. There was no inkling then of the popular, widespread and powerful forces that these sports would become.
Footy, although the oldest codified football sport in the world, has largely been kept from the attention of the world by distance, as well as the focus of each country on their home-grown sporting traditions. But whereas previously the international promotion of the sport was largely in the hands of the hundreds of thousands of Aussies travelling around the world with a Sherrin in their backpack, the advent of the Internet has opened this fantastic game to the attention of the world and, much the same as football was once restricted to a few, is now ripe to become something greater. The flexibility of local competitions playing anything from 9’s on rugby pitches, to 18’s on full ovals has made the sport that much more accessible and enabled its ongoing growth.
There is no doubt in my mind that it will be much more difficult for footy to grow to even a significant fraction of the size that football enjoys today. Sponsorship money – a key catalyst of growth - will almost always flow to the events garnering the most media coverage and support, there is reluctance of individuals and organisations to ‘take a chance’ on something new, when the current situation is under control. But the seeds are there. As Mtutuzeli passionately states in his letter, one of the best examples of this is the International Cup.
In 2002, ten teams came together to create the first truly global footy event. Twelve countries took part in 2005. Sixteen in 2008 when the footy world saw Israelis and Palestinians put aside their differences to form the Peace Team. Over twenty teams are confirmed for this year’s event in what should be the greatest IC yet. Every year, more and more players from around the world travel to Australia prior to the tournament to hone their skills and the standard keeps improving.
These aren’t highly paid athletes, backed by multi-million pound sponsors and powerful organisations, but hard-working volunteers, going above and beyond the efforts put in by their peers to make something truly special a reality. The sacrifices they make and the lengths they go to in pursuit of their goals prove beyond a doubt that footy has a passionate following in a growing number of countries. It will just take a spark in the right place for this smouldering following to ignite into something which takes footy to the next level, first in one country, then another. Then across a continent as organisations such as AFL Europe form to push footy forward.
I took on the Presidency of AFL Great Britain in November 2010, not to be “in charge”, or to tell people how footy should be played, but to provide my contribution to that spark. To push this incredible sport just that little bit further forward, toward a point where people sit up and take notice. There are hundreds of people around the world working toward that goal as well. Mtutuzeli writes that he looks forward to a South Africa vs Australia test match in the MCG in the next 25 years. No matter how long it takes, the real beautiful game is spreading and will achieve success internationally.
Mr Kennett’s remarks were in response to a particular situation he felt strongly about, Mtutuzeli’s equally so. It will be up to the footy community around the world to determine, now and in the future, which of the two sees the future more clearly.