AFL wants South Africa to take on Australia by 2008
Monday, January 23 2006 @ 09:45 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
In a surprise announcement from AFL Headquarters this week, the league has announced a major boost to its programs in South Africa with a view to the nation joining the Australia-Ireland International Rules series by 2008 at under 17s level, the seniors following before the end of the decade. The announcement also displayed an optimistic change in the tone of official announcements relating to international Aussie Rules, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou notably upbeat about the arrival of an AFL club drafting directly from Africa being close to hand.
The announcement comes close on the heels of the public revelation of plans for an Aboriginal youth tour of South Africa, to happen next month. The tour group is to be made up largely of players from the Clontarf Football Academy in Perth, an organisation specialising in giving young Aboriginal footballers a pathway to AFL stardom. However, there are players representing every Australian state except Tasmania, and tour managers Adam Goodes and Michael Long have said the tour is as much about developing young Aboriginal players as leaders and role models as about football.
The tour will include Australian Rules matches in Mafeking (North West Province) and Cape Town, with a third match to be played under international rules in Potchefstroom against a South African national lineup. Players will also meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African president Thabo Mbeki.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said he expects the two-week tour starting on February 19 to be the first of many, with the view to it becoming a bi-annual event. "This is not a one-off for us, this is a long-term investment... There seems to be a lot of synergy between what we've done here and what's happening in South Africa."
Demetriou also echoed a sentiment expressed in the past by the South African government about the role of sport in healing South Africa's troubled past in matters of race, "There seems to be this little sprinkling of potential that the AFL game could be a game that helps cross all boundaries and give great hope to some sections of society there."
"We think South Africa is a place that will provide great opportunity for the AFL in its international expansion... I'm on the record as saying whether it's a South African or an African player playing, the skill set and the natural affinity to our game is extraordinary... The athletes show incredible potential and a lot of similarities with our indigenous players in the way they take to the game."
AFL game development manager Dave Matthews said AFL South Africa had an objective to have a South African player in the AFL in the next three to four years. The indigenous trip has been organised to coincide with the Australian cricket team's tour of South Africa in February and March.
This announcement has created significant media interest in Australia and Ireland, indlusing the following further reading for fans worldwide: