Contributed by: Michael Christiansen
Gabel Stathis has just recently completed his stint in an AYAD role (Australian Youth Ambassador) in Samoa where he was busy working with AFL Samoa to help develop and promote Australian Football.
The following is an interview with Gabel.
WFN : What motivated you to apply?
GS : The Australian Youth Ambassadors Program appealed to me as I felt that it was a great opportunity to kick-start my sports management career and it gave me the chance to prove myself from scratch. I also had the chance to give something back to a developing country using AFL as a vehicle to promote an active and healthy lifestyle given that 80% of Samoa's population are classified in the obese category.
Gabel had recently completed a Bachelor's degree in Business Majoring in Sports Management at Griffith University on the Gold Coast was motivated in developing role with “one of the biggest sporting organizations in Australia the AFL”. He saw this as a perfect opportunity to build an array of networks with the AFL. Gabel would like “to use the past 12 months volunteering as a stepping stone to hopefully land a role with the AFL”.
WFN : How did you find out about the AYAD program?
GS : I managed to find out about the AYAD program through a friend who did a similar assignment promoting and lifting the profile of Cricket in Papua New Guinea (when) he came back after his 12 month gig in PNG telling of nothing but unique experiences during his role as Cricket development officer in PNG. The AYAD program offers you these experiences that cannot be captured in Australia.
WFN : What were your expectations?
GS : The AYAD program runs you through a week's long extensive Pre-departure training program on the destination so you have the up-most preparation on the culture and way of life of the destination. This helped me learn a lot more about the island and gave me an understanding on what to expect before getting into Samoa. I expected AFLSamoa to have a functioning committee and talent development programs in place as AFL Samoa made an appearance in the 2008 International Cup. As it turned out I walked in to a greenfield site with no office set-up, no school boys program in place, and not much awareness of the game of AFL; my expectations were way off the mark! It was really exciting and scary at the same time. But you take a deep breath and jump in.
WFN : Getting settled in, what became the biggest challenge, what gave you the biggest thrill/sense of achievement
GS : The transition into island life was really good as our in-country manager at the time eased us into Fa a Samoa (The way of life). I loved it. My advice is – participate. Try and find out about the local customs and way of life and live it. Don’t play the role of the Aussie on holidays. You are one of the community.Samoa is Primarily a Rugby Union dominated country with very little of the population aware of the game of Aussie rules, as it turned out 2011 was a Rugby World Cup year with the Nation crazy for their home grown heroes Manu Samoa. I had the task whilst the World Cup was on to generate interest and awareness of Aussie Rules during this time.
Gabel suggested tongue in cheek that there was a sense of relief when Manu was knocked out of the World Cup!
GS : The biggest thrill for me and what sent shivers up my spine was to organize the Inaugural Aaron Edwards Cup; a 1 day lightning carnival that saw 6 Village schools on the South Coast of the island away from the Schools in Apia get together in the village of Lepa/Lotofaga and play for the cup. To witness the excitement and the game being played away from our shores … was extraordinary to watch. This Cup also saw the selection of one individual (to) travel internationally out of his village to New Zealand to play in the AFL's South Pacific Training and Development Camp. The Individual was then selected to play in the South Pacific Squad in Australia. An experience that he will never forget as he has never been out of Samoa; And neither will I – It was rewarding for me also to watch his development and the genuine excitement of his family.
WFN : What challenges do you see ahead for AFL Samoa?
GS : AFL Samoa now have the difficult task of keeping the consistency and continuity of the programs in place, AFL Samoa has always relied heavily on volunteers to keep the programs running. Now is the time to give an opportunity to a local Samoan and put them on a permanent position to run the programs that have been set-up. Sustainability will always be their biggest challenge, and to expand and build on a successful 2011-12!
It's exciting times ahead for AFL in Samoa with the launching of the primary schools Drug and Alcohol Program later this year; I would like to see this program with the appropriate funding go ahead. With the Oceania Youth Cup coming up in December I would like to see AFL Samoa participate in this as footballers in Samoa have allot to offer and in my opinion would be up there in the top 2 AFL Pacific Islands. With no one on the ground at this particular stage due to insufficient funding from different sources this is not looking promising.
WFN : What would you most like to see in the future for AFL Samoa?
GS : I would also like to see the beginning of a senior 9's competition and a long-term ground arranged to play on. Ultimately I would like to see AFL Samoa continue to grow!
WFN : Who were some of the people on the ground who deserve special mention?
GS : I would like to thank the Treasurer of AFL Samoa Mark Burns who supported where possible throughout my 12 Months there. Bruce Peak, the Vice President of AFL Samoa; a very determined and motivated man who does not take ‘No’ for an answer; and who gave me guidance and ideas which helped the growth and promotion of the game. Corey Bell, the Secretary of AFL Samoa, who was a huge help for the game in Samoa and looked at all the Positives and Negatives before making a final decision; and lastly the Woodlands who are on the Executive based in Melbourne and who have worked tirelessly over the past 12 months assisting me getting the game off the ground.
I would also like to give my thanks to the AFL's rep throughout the Asia/Pacific Andrew Cadzow for his continued support and guidance whilst in Samoa.
A special mention for the Australian High Commission to Samoa and in particular His Excellency Dr Stephen Henningham; who always had time for us and gave excellent guidance and supported us for the entire term. This was an experience in itself to see how an Australian Government post operates overseas.
WFN : What’s next for G.Stathis?
GS : I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Samoa and learnt a lot about myself from the experience and made a lot of life-long friends from Australia, Samoa and around the world. I thoroughly recommend the experience.
Well I am back on the Gold Coast now and looking for suitable positions that will keep me in the sports industry.
I would like to continue my work with the AFL at a development capacity for a particular region, co-ordinating grass-roots development programs or continuing my work within a different code!
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