United Arab Emirates newspaper the Gulf News reported on January 28th this year that the AFL are currently planning a match between AFL clubs Collingwood and Adelaide in the second week of February 2008 in the UAE city of Dubai, home to Collingwood's major sponsor Emirates Airlines, around 15,000 expatriate Australians and the newly-formed Dubai Dingoes footy club. An AFL match in Dubai has been mooted on a number of occasions, but this appears to be the closest it's come to happening to date.
Many of the great names in Australian Football are not Anglo names consistent with Australia's largest migration contributor, England. A great number of the game's stars have been first, second or third generation Aussies whose recent family tree consist of languages other than English. Players from the past like Alex Jesaulenko and current champs like Anthony Koutoufides have made the sport their own. In the last couple of years the AFL has increasingly encouraged Australia's diverse migrant community to embrace Aussie Rules, as has happened in the past to a large extent without official involvement. A useful tool in this process is a simple introduction to the game in 17 different languages.
Funding for Australian Football is always a contentious subject, with literally thousands of clubs across Australia and the world fighting for a "piece of the pie", either directly or through support for their league. This applies to AFL clubs, state leagues, amateurs, country and other grass-roots programs. This is equally true of international interests, but for supporters of the game's spread, it can be argued that overseas concerns should in some cases surpass that of Aussie regions, primarily base on an argument of potential. That case may not stand up so well according to many Australian clubs, especially with an already heavy focus on Queensland and New South Wales and not so much to other states.
It's in that context that funding is decided. In 2006 the AFL put several new systems in place to deal with the game internationally. A lot of the programs sound encouraging and are based on logical arguments. There have also been significant announcements regarding footy in South Africa. On the other hand there have been quiet grumbles of dissatisfaction and concerns that the African gains could come at the expense of other nations. We look at all these issues and talk to some of the leagues about their funding in 2006 and hopes for 2007.
In 2006 the Australian Football League continued to demonstrate its hold on Australia as the dominant football code and winter sport. The year started with the media digesting the news of the record AU$780 million 5-year TV deal. The game also successfully faced the rising challenge of soccer with Australia's surge deep into the soccer World Cup in Germany and unprecedented media coverage. Crowds at AFL matches were virtually the same as in 2005, with home and away matches averaging 35,251 spectators, just 445 per game less than the record set the previous season. Rule changes saw less serious knee injuries to ruckmen and a quickening of the game. There were also promising announcements for funding for footy in South Africa, and a major restructure of the way the AFL approaches international development - more on that in a later article. The Aussie Rules matches culminated in the blockbuster one point win to West Coast in the Grand Final over Sydney. But amongst the successes there have been several issues that will need to be addressed in 2007.
The Collingwood Magpies have their own webcast known as CTV, and recently on their free coverage they had an interview with recent Irish signing Martin Clarke and followed their Brazilian born player "Harry" O'Brien back to his roots in Rio.
The figure of a superstar celebrating in Brisbane Lions colours while being worshipped in front of a sell out crowd of 52,000 Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane is not your everyday occurence. The Brisbane Lions last week received a welcome promotional boost from rock's bad boy, when Robbie Williams wore a Brisbane Lions jumper for most of the concert as part of his Close Encounters tour. Williams confessed that he is a fan of the club, reportedly staying up late to watch the match of the day from London. During the performance he is reported to have made references to Lions stars Jonathan Brown and other members of the side.
The AFL has released details of changes to its Executive structure and a reallocation of duties as a result of a review following the move of key member Ben Buckley to the top position in Australian soccer. Although the changes may have little affect on the day-to-day outward appearance of the AFL, there was a small snippet of promising information in the re-shuffle.
Two players with an international flavour were added to AFL player lists at the Pre-season and Rookie List drafts conducted this week. PNG born Mal Michael ended his retirement of just a few weeks to be picked up by Essendon, while Irish youngster Martin Clarke (pictured) was added to Collingwood's international rookie list via the rookie draft.
Interest (and belief) in international footy can often seem pretty weak in the Australian media, with the international rules series and international AFL exhibition games coming under fire for being irrelevant or simply a waste of time and money.
The tabloid Herald Sun, Melbourne's largest newspaper, recently ran an article critical of the traditional London match (and an online poll suggested about two-thirds of readers thought the London matches should be stopped), but included a lengthy quote from AFL chief Andrew Demetriou in defence of the idea.
The AFL's scholarship program for young talent in NSW/ACT commences in 2007, with clubs already allowed to sign up players (see NSW apprenticeship scheme in full swing). Recently General Manager Game Development, David Matthews, released details of the much anticipated equivalent for international juniors. Here we discuss the rules of the program with AFL Talent and International Manager Kevin Sheehan (including details not widely reported), gauge his thoughts after a recent trip to South Africa, and ponder whether the new scholarship scheme will have an immediate effect on AFL recruiting strategies.