Mustafa İlhan, known as John Ilhan, the founder of mobile phone retailer "Crazy John's", died this week in Melbourne. The flamboyant Ilhan was a very popular figure with migrants and footy fans alike and respected by many around Australia.
John was an Australian "rags to riches" story, a Muslim who migrated from Turkey to Australia. From working class Broadmeadows, he opened his first store in 1991 and in just 10 years he had built up one of Australia's biggest retail chains. In 2003, he topped the Australian Young Rich list, becoming Australia's richest man 40 years or younger. His personal fortune was estimated to be worth over AUD$300 million. His success came largely from his business innovation, his larger than life personality and his hands on approach to business. John became a role model for many Australian muslims and migrants.
Victoria is home to 5 million people and ten of the sixteen teams in Australia's elite football league, the AFL. A year ago I wrote a controversial article challenging the AFL to make some tough decisions and truly nationalise the league whilst ensuring football remains at the forefront of Victoria's sporting scene. I believed that reducing the number of Melbourne clubs would be the key to improved performances from the city's remaining clubs and would mean new clubs in unrepresented parts of Australia. This article looks at the relevance of my arguments a year on, following much improved results by Victorian clubs. It also looks in depth at the underperforming VFL (Victoria's prominent state league) and possible measures to lift the league to the status it could enjoy.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the international spread of Australian Football is making the step from a small club to larger numbers and getting juniors into the game. Of course it's completely reasonable for an expat-Australian club to function purely at that level, but in many cases a decision is made to try to develop the game locally and leave a lasting legacy.
In some cases a club may morph into a league, or in areas with higher numbers of Aussies, several clubs may form and become a relatively stable league relatively quickly. Over time the question sometimes emerges of how much pressure the league can or should put on clubs to ensure local development occurs to ensure the continued growth of the sport. Classic examples of reasonably large, stable leagues are those based around London (England), Ontario (Canada) and Auckland (New Zealand). Each of those boast a good standard of footy and a solid mix of Aussies and locals. But over the years all three have had issues in getting their clubs to invest heavily in junior development. Here we have a look at one small example of the tough decision another sport made.
English-born Fergus Watts' recent delisting by St Kilda and David Rodan's delisting scare last year show just how fragile an AFL career can be. However, many players do bounce back.
Glancing upon the AFL lists, as we head into 2008, there is plenty to get excited about. As these players mature, they become role models for players growing up in their countries. The younger they are, the more potential for long successful AFL careers.
So we decided to look at the ages of some of the current crop of AFL "internationals" and encouragingly the signs are still youthful.
Back in 2004 the Australian Football League, in conjuction with state leagues, launched Recreational Football, or Rec Footy. Essentially it is non-contact football, played on a smaller field with eight players per side. "Tackles" are made through pulling flags from the player with the ball - a similar concept to flag football in the US, and in the same vein as a touch replacing a tackle in touch football (touch Rugby) in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The new game gives the opportunity for people to play a form of Australian Football over summer in a social setting, without the physical load of traditional Aussie Rules. The game has the potential to fill a crucial hole in the market which allows sports such as soccer and touch football to draw players away from footy. I've written before of the effect touch football has in Australia of introducing the skills and interest in Rugby Union and League to future fathers, mothers and their children. Australian Football clearly needed an equivalent, so as the 2007/08 season approaches it's timely to see how this new sport is going, based on statistics from the AFL's 2006 census. And it's also timely to remind prospective players, those with footy backgrounds and those without but who had always wanted to try the game themselves, males and females, young and not so young, to contact their local associations to find or make a team and launch their Rec Footy experience.
In several countries Australian Football has moved beyond what could be considered the first and second phases of game development - expatriate Australians playing the sport and local adults then learning the game. With junior development beyond small groups now taking place in countries such as PNG, New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa, Tonga, China, the UK and Canada, budding young talent needs to be exposed to the highest levels of competition and training if they are to reach their full potential and attract the eye of AFL scouts. For the past couple of years there have been signs of some positive moves in this area but there hasn't been a breakthrough yet. We look at what's on the cards but by no means confirmed.
The AFL's figures are maybe less conservative than these early estimates, as the WFN estimates used the criteria of players needing to take part in at least four matches during that year to be counted. However the current International AFL figures indicate a growing base of 34,845 players outside Australia, which represents outstanding growth over WFN's estimate of 26,183 in 2004.
Sports Without Borders is a new non-profit organisation supporting young people from migrant or refugee communities in Melbourne to get involved in sporting clubs. Backed by groups including the Victorian Institute of Sport, Swinburne University and the Victorian Multicultural Commission, SWB has been part of a wider push for Australian rules football among young Victorians from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Sudanese cousins Ring and Akon Mawlen recently received a cheque to help them continue their footy careers at the Albion Football Club in Melbourne's western suburbs, Akon having played in an under 12s premiership side this year for the club. The presentation marked the start of a partnership between SWB and AFL Foundation, the full story can be found on the AFL website.
In danger of being lost amongst the many firsts in the BC Footy weekend back in August in which Canada and the United States went head-to-head in men's, women's and under 17's boys Australian Football, was the annual BC Footy Cup. The club competition saw a combined Seattle/Portland side travel up from the US to take on the local Vancouver Cougars and Burnaby Eagles and Alberta's Kangaroos. But the individual journeys across North America were surpassed by the Nippon AFL side that took part in the Cup, with members of the Tsunami squad making the long trip from Japan.