Contributed by: Wesley Hull
South America is one massive continent. It absolutely dwarfs Australia in size – and Europe for that matter. The Andes Mountains which run the entire west coast of the continent run for around 7000 kilometres alone. The distance by road from Bogota in Colombia and Santiago in Chile is around 6000 kilometres. This is where the footy kicks in. On July 22nd the Bogota Bulldogs will travel that distance to Santiago for the final instalment of the Andes Cup for 2017 – though probably not by road.
Australian Rules football in South America has long been championed by the Santiago Saints in Chile. They have remained the only permanent team for many years, crying out for company. With the arrival of the Bogota Bulldogs the game has a great chance to grow even further.
In a press release for local newspapers in Chile, the Santiago Saints report that “AFL football is back for the second instalment of Latin America's newest rivalry. This Saturday, the 22nd of July, teams from Chile and Colombia will go head to head for the Andes Cup in the leafy surrounds of Lo Barnachea in Santiago, 2pm local time. The Bogota Bulldogs will be hoping to retain the Cup after its comprehensive victory in the inaugural clash in Bogota in September 2016. By contrast, the Santiago Saints are desperate to reclaim the mantle as the powerhouse of Latin American footy, back in more familiar conditions closer to sea level.”
“The Chilean team known locally as Los Santos, will be hoping to draw a strong crowd as per the opener last year against the Bulldogs, and to replicate the community atmosphere that was on display in Bogota.”
“The festivities are scheduled to commence at 1pm, with free entry to the ground in Lo Barnachea, one of Santiago's more affluent areas, with snow-capped mountain peaks providing a stunning backdrop for players and spectators alike.”
“Local expat and favourite son of the Saints, Jimbo, of Jimbo's Meat Pies fame, will be on hand to provide a uniquely Australian flavour at the ground, with his freshly baked pies likely to be hot property among the punters in the early stages.”
“The Saints, who were founded by Australian expats in 2008, are looking to field up to half of its outfit with Chilean players against Bogota. Gone are the days when the club relied heavily on its Australian players to make up the numbers in this traditionally soccer obsessed nation. The club, headed by president Patricio Saavedra and ex Footscray star and ambassador of Los Santos, Jose Romero, are confident that the game will help boost exposure of AFL football to the wider community in Santiago. The Saints hope to lobby the AFL for further support in growing the game in Chile, to pave the way for the Chilean male and female stars of the future.”
For the Bulldogs, the game represents a huge opportunity, as outlined by the club spokesperson.
“The Bulldogs have had a great preparation leading up to the game and even with a few key players unavailable there is a great spirit among the Doggies and we are confident of putting in a solid performance in Chile. We are determined to retain the Los Andes Cup on tour and we are grateful to the Saints for the invitation.”
“This year the club has flourished with new players coming down to training every week. As a club, we have really pulled together with more experienced players all contributing in different roles within the club to grow the sport and develop less experienced newcomers. Our proudest achievement is certainly our first Colombian on-baller, 23 year-old Andrés Romero. He has improved his game immensely by taking on board tips and coaching from the senior players and we are thrilled to see him have the chance to play in Santiago.”
“Beyond the Andes Cup, the Bulldogs are in talks with the Houston Lonestars and hoping to schedule a visit and a match at the end of this year in Bogota and from there, broaden the experience of the players. In 2018 we are looking to develop intra-club matches and a format for a proper season, and hopefully a visit to Texas as well.”
“Colombia has a lot of natural talent and the Bulldogs will be running an introductory training program with University Rosario and are in negotiations to develop a permanent home ground and facilities on their north Bogota campus. As the establishment of a strong Rugby Union competition in Colombia has shown us, the key to growing the sport is to develop local players and get the Colombian youth involved.”
“We are working hard on fund raising programs and we are in talks with potential club sponsors to inject some much needed capital into the development process. The Australian club members, many of whom are residents and earn their living in Colombia, find a certain satisfaction in introducing our great game to our adopted country and the players feel extremely proud and fortunate to be able to represent Colombia on an international stage.”
In many respects this could be the biggest match staged in South America, if only for the fact that the potential for growth as a result of the match could be felt across the entire South American continent. In the past there have been varying levels of interest and involvement in Australian Rules football in countries like Argentina, Brazil, and even Mexico. It would be a great credit to both the Saints and the Bulldogs if their Andes Cup could become the catalyst for future growth.
But for now the Bogota Bulldogs have a title to defend, and the Santiago Saints a title to usurp. The action takes place next Saturday, 22nd July, in Santiago, Chile.
World Footy News