Friday, September 16 2005 @ 08:15 pm ACST
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
Plans for WAFL grand finalists Subiaco and South Fremantle to tour to Mumbai, India have been postponed until 2006 for organisational reasons, but there are big plans in the west to put some significant energy into promoting Aussie Rules across the Indian Ocean rim, from Indonesia, to India, to South Africa.
With a bid on for the 2008 International Cup and a delegation from the AFL South Africa visiting Perth this week, Perth might be the place to watch for a big burst in footy's international development.
WFN spoke with the Western Australian Football League's General Manager Grant Dorrington.
A few weeks back, the latest scoop on the international footy media scene was that the city of Perth, capital of Western Australia, was planning on a bid for the 2008 International Cup. In addition to this, Perth's Sunday Times newspaper reported that this year's 2005 WAFL grand finalists were to play an exhibition match in Mumbai, India (see earlier article).
Reports in the Sunday Times were a little premature, according to Dorrington. "We've been discussing this since about May... There's a big push at the moment from the Western Australian government to build ties across the Indian Ocean region, be they cultural, business or sporting".
One initiative was taken by Perth businessman and football fan Peter DiPrinzio. DiPrinzio's debt collection agency Repcol maintain a significant call centre in India - and he decided this business would be as good a starting point as any for some cultural exchange between Australia and India. The Western Australian Football Commission agreed and plans started for an exhibition match, a replay of this year's Grand Final, in Mumbai.
Dorrington explains that a few snags put the game on hold. "It was originally scheduled for the week after our grand final, but there were a few factors which held that back. The biggest problems were organising a venue and flights - the major stadiums in India are all controlled by the cricket and they don't let anyone else use them. We were also working on a deal for travel costs, possibly running it together with a trade delegation.... Basically we just ran out of time for this year". He says they are still committed to the concept, and plans are now for the match to be held either as a pre-season game next year or after the 2006 grand final. One exciting link-up to this project is that accomodation had been arranged with the Indian National Insitute of Sport - a huge potential toe in the door.
The exhibition match is only one of some very bold concepts being put forward in Perth. "We'd like to possibly 'sub-contract' development support from the AFL for footy in the Indian Ocean region... We've got some of the executive from the AFL South Africa coming over tomorrow to talk with us and watch the West Coast - Adelaide preliminary final. Perth's also got the biggest South African community outside of South Africa". One increasingly well-known figure in Western Australia at the moment is South African-born Paul Gumby playing for South Fremantle. The black South African moved to Australia as a child, took up Aussie Rules at age 14 and is now impressing crowds in WA with his athleticism and amazing marking ability.
One possible link for West Australia and South Africa would be tours by the Clontarf Football Academy, a West Australian system bringing together Aboriginal community schools which has produced some impressive Aussie Rules talent. "We'd love to foster some relationship between indigenous South Africans and indigenous Australians, and the South African government is also keen to use sport in this area".
Looking across the region, Dorrington would like to build a relationship with people playing footy anywhere, right across from South-East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East all the way to Africa. He is optimistic that it might even lead to some new competitions being established in time to get teams across to the 2008 International Cup, which the West Australian Football Commission would love to see held in Perth.
"We've spoken to the AFL about it being held here and they were very positive about the concept as well, but obviously they're still at the stage of assessing the cup that's just been held, and there might be other locations bidding on the cup, so we'll have to wait and see.
The WA plans are all still at the concept stage and where the near future will lead is anyone's guess - but demographics in India may make it an attractive target for AFL spending similar to in South Africa, a 'bang-for-your-buck' area where large playing numbers can be generated for relatively inexpensive investments.
Dorrington has one last offer to make. "Anyone involved in the game anwhere in the region get in touch with us - Bali, Jakarta, Middle East, wherever... If we'd been doing this in 1905 instead of 2005 we'd have an international game".