Contributed by: Michael Christiansen
Shortly after the 2011 AFL Oceania Youth Cup, the Fiji coach, Glen Butler said goodbye. The reason being that his stint as an AYAD officer in Fiji had come to an end. The AYAD program is referenced over and over again in respect to Australian Football in the Pacific. Worldfootynews asked Glen to reflect on his time.
WFN The AYAD process. What got you into it. How did you go through the process, and how did the AYAD promise live up in reality?
GB I originally came across an advertisement on the AFL website in late 2009 to volunteer overseas and promote AFL. I had just recently finished my university degree and was living abroad for most of the year. After returning to Australia and struggling to get a job, I saw this as an opportunity to gain some work experience, which might possibly lead to a job with the AFL. I emailed AFL Asia-South Pacific with a little about myself and my interest in the position.
I was called into AFL House in Melbourne and met with Andrew Cadzow (AFL Asia-Pacific Manager). We had a fairly casual chat about the AFL in the Asia-Pacific region and what it was all about. Originally there was a similar position in Indonesia for which Andrew had suggested I apply.
I remember receiving a call in April 2010 from Cadz saying, “The job in Indonesia is gone, do you want to go Fiji instead…?” I thought about it for maybe a second, “Sure…”
From there I was put in contact with Austraining International, the project management company that delivers the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program, an Australian Government initiative through AusAID. I then had to apply for the Fiji position officially through Austraining in May. I also had a phone interview before I was officially accepted in August that year.
The AYAD Program, part of Australian Volunteers for International Development, supports young Australians on volunteer assignments in developing countries. The program provides you with a support network of other volunteers and management staff in country(sic). I quickly settled into my new surroundings and had a great group of friends before I even left Australia.
WFN The Fiji experience. What were your expectations? What have been some of the greatest challenges, the greatest successes and what remain the greatest challenges (esp from a footy perspective).
GB When I first arrived, the Fiji Power were a month out from travelling to Tonga for the 2010 Youth Oceania Cup. I was pleased to find out I would be joining the squad on the trip. I remember being quite impressed with local committee that seemed well organised and the players were training hard under the supervision of Dylan Wolfgramm and then David Rodan Snr prior to leaving for Tonga.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew only of what I had seen on their Facebook page and brief contact with the chairman Robert Wolfgramm via email. I helped out where I could with administration and footy training. Soon we were off to Tonga, the boys played extremely well and I learned a lot about the Fijian culture and was warmly welcomed by everyone.
There was definitely no lack of enthusiasm for the game as I remember having boys waiting by my front gate not long after the New Year asking when training was starting again. I remember getting a group of the boys together to hand out AFL flyers around Suva. The next week, we had around eighty players turn up at a training session.
The greatest success was getting the senior team to Australia to compete in the International Cup. I didn’t realise at the time the magnitude of sending the team and officials to Australia. Organising Visa’s, flight payments, budgeting and fundraising etc. as the majority involved had never travelled overseas before and I myself had never applied for a visa to Australia surprisingly, let alone 32 of them. Credit to all the players and the families involved, it was a huge sacrifice not only money but their time and effort. The players getting down to training 3-4 times a week plus practice matches on the weekend. For these guys it would be for some, a long walk to the nearest bus route, getting on numerous buses from all around Suva for anywhere upwards of an hour to train for two hours and then get home again. So in addition to paying for their flights and visa’s to Australia, they were paying bus fares daily to get to and from training which put even greater strain on their families.
The biggest credit is due to the committee which has been held together by Robert and Lupe Wolfgramm. The two of them along with small group of parents and friends are keeping AFL Fiji alive and kicking. What I didn’t realise when I initially started was that they are all volunteers. They have their families, jobs and everything else to deal with but they still sacrifice their time to be involved. I (have) a lot of respect to the Wolfgramm family, as both Lupe and Robert would be down at every training, practice match and fundraiser.
Leading up to International Cup, we started the AFL 9’s competition that normally ran on a Saturday morning. One of the biggest challenges was finding a suitable ground. Albert Park is ideal due to its size but generally the ground is overrun by small groups playing schoolyard rugby or soccer and the occasional game of cricket. March through September is the peak of the rugby union season so this made it all the more challenging. The venue was ever-changing but the players kept coming. By the last week of the competition, we had close to one hundred players playing across eight teams.
AFL in Fiji was also getting more regular media exposure. The media in Fiji craved sport news and were extremely open to learning more about AFL. The two major newspapers (Fiji Times and Fiji Sun) regularly published sports scores from the local weekend matches and updates on progress throughout the year. I was interviewed on Fiji One TV network and had a couple of radio interviews with Viti FM.
The major targets of AFL Fiji’s programs were on youth. I started visiting schools during term 1 in the Suva area with of two of the senior boys Max Wolfgramm and Semiti Mateiwai. We visited about a dozen schools seeing close to 3000 students over an 8-9 week period. Another major challenge was expanding the program and establishing it outside of Suva. I had visited a number of schools in Nadi, Lautoka and Ba on the western coast of Viti Levu (main island of Fiji) and conducted several clinics but these were one-offs. It was a 4-5 hour bus trip between Suva and the western coast of Viti Levu, not to mention travelling to the other 320 or so islands that make up Fiji. Another challenge was that between the Wolfgramm family, myself and a handful of under 16 players, we were the only people in Fiji (known as AFL Fiji) that had a significant knowledge of the game.
The benefits of participating in the International Cup were to create more exposure in Fiji and hopefully in the Australian media, to indicate to the AFL that progress is being made in Fiji, which may lead to implementing a similar academy-program to Papua New Guinea and finally that I now had twenty-eight assistants to now help run training clinics around Fiji. After returning from Australia, I caught up with a group of the senior players, handed them footballs, whistles and told them they are now coaching the Under 16’s in the lead up to the Oceania Cup. Two weeks later, I was invited to a practice match between the Suva City Swans and Raiwaqa Bulldogs on a rugby ground in the suburbs of Suva. A few days later I made my way out to the next main town of Nausori, about thirty minutes north of Suva. I made my way down to the local park to find a group of fifty-to-sixty players in large circle surrounding one of the Fiji TRIBE players as he talked and gave a post training rev-up. Again these senior players were all volunteering their time and effort to get down and train the new players coming through.
The 2011 Oceania Cup was the other major achievement for the year. Credit to the Wolfgramm’s and the small committee made up of Thelma Nabuka, Pasepa Wainigola, Beta and Fabi Vateitei, Inoke Leweni, Serafina Navuso and others to organise themselves during the competition. The Australian High Commission was very excited to be involved and graciously hosted the Australian Boomerangs and players and officials from the other Pacific nations in welcoming them to Fiji. Along with Andrew Cadzow and his team from AFL Asia-Pacific for running the tournament, it was well received and gained big media and public exposure over the week and leading up to the carnival. The Sportsman’s Night was a great night held at the Royal Suva Yacht Club and raised some much needed funds for AFL Fiji.
WFN What’s next for G.Butler (life after AYAD). And your hopes/expectations of Fiji (AFL) going forward.
GB The big challenge for AFL Fiji from here will be to expand and improve on 2011. I have met several Australian expats recently who have indicated their interest in getting involved, unfortunately they are typically on short-term placements in Fiji. The Oceania Cup will again be held in Fiji in 2012 and hopefully will be bigger and better than 2011. Many teachers throughout Fiji contacted me in regards to running clinics at their schools through the Ministry of Education who were very helpful. I hope that the more workshops can be held in Fiji have more and more local Fijians with level 1 AFL accreditation. Ideally to have teachers in every school with some knowledge and resources and embed AFL in the School curriculum for years to come. There are plans to have an official AFL 9’s competition early this year, to form clubs and officially register for the competition etc. There are hopes of attracting some international teams from the Pacific and possibly Australia to be involved.
I learned so much from the experience. I made some good friends and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Fiji. I am applying to do a development internship with the AFL, which is an opportunity provided by the AYAD program upon return from assignment. I am definitely interested in continuing to work with the AFL at some level, be that at the development or club level. The internship will involve future planning for AFL Fiji, which would involve competitions, workshops and looking at potential for international scholarships.
Footnote – AFL Fiji AGM is scheduled for this Wednesday, Feb 1, 5-10pm at the Albert Park pavilion.
World Footy News