On most weekends, the parks and stadiums of Buenos Aires are crowded with some of the most passionate round ball enthusiasts in the world.
On Saturday afternoon however, puzzled locals at club DAOM, which is only a couple of drop punts from Maradona’s famous Boca neighborhood, witnessed the sight of a new Sherrin being bounced as play kicked off in South America’s historic first international fixture.
Los Santos (Saints) from Chile and Las Aguilas (Eagles) from Argentina were playing for the inaugural 9-a-side Andes AFL Cup, although both clubs agreed beforehand that the promotion of “Futbol Australiano” in South America was more important than the result.
After a tight and physical first quarter, Chile eventually got on top of their hosts and ran out comfortable winners 19.10 (124) to Argentina's 1.5 (11), largely due to the influence of their expatriate Australian forward line consisting of Pedr Chapman (9 goals) and Tristan Bradbrook (4 goals).
Chilean football is up and running with the formation of the Santiago Saints (los Santos) AFC which kicked off in April and has been getting great numbers to training at the foot of the snow capped Andes mountains.
Los Santos are coached by Pablo Mejias, who grew up in Australia and played some footy at the Port Adelaide Magpies. Pablo is one of six Chilean nationals currently training in a club that also includes Australian, Peruvian, Kiwi, French, English and Irish representation. Jose Romero of Kangaroos and Western Bulldogs fame is the only known player of Chilean background player to have made it at AFL level to date.
Los Santos are preparing to tour Buenos Aires for the historical first Latin American international against the Argentinean Eagles, las Aguilas, on June 28. The Aguilas are looking to kick-start footy in Argentina after running a minor league format from 1998 until 2005.
The countries are fierce sporting rivals and the maiden Australian football fixture should provide plenty of entertainment for those coming to the game.
The long-awaited first test clash between Argentina and Chile has now been scheduled for Saturday June 28th in Buenos Aires.
The Argentine Eagles will hold their first training session on May 31st, with plans to restart the four-team 9-a-side league that existed in Buenos Aires from 1998 until 2005. The league ran for a few weeks each year, featuring mainly off-season soccer and rugby players, until hitting a lean patch in 2006 and 2007 where only one friendly match was played in each of those years.
Around 800 students and teachers of physical education took part in Australian football clinics held by CODA Sports in between 2005 and 2008, with the sport being a semi-regular feature at alternative sports expos.
The Santos de Santiago - Chile's only Australian football club to date - was formed early this year, with their first training session only a few weeks ago.
The AAFAu is part of CODA sports, a group promoting alternative sports such as Australian rules, Rugby League, Lacrosse, Gaelic football and many more in Argentina. Their old website is still operational, but hadn't been updated since 2004. We recently heard news of a new site, with the following encouraging message (in Spanish) posted in June '07:
Australian Football is reborn in Argentina - at the hands of CODASPORTS an era of rebirth is commencing. After the brief heyday from 2001 to 2004, the renewed interest of many athletes in Argentina has led to the organization of a new event in August, where fans of this great sport will meet to outline a future major league. With 60 registered players, we are ready for our annual tournament 2007.
We haven't heard how the 2007 tournament went (or if it got off the ground), but readers may have seen the comments left here saying a set of tests between Argentina and Chile will be held in 2008 - Chile having also seen attempts to start a team in Santiago a few years back, before disappearing off the radar.
The Catalan league at one stage also had a large Brazilian contingent, and was planning a match between Catalonia and the "Brazil Anacondas". Though the match was dropped from the schedule due to other tournaments and matches getting in the way, the interest may still be floating around.
Exciting times, let's hope footy can lay some serious foundations in South America.
Aussie Rules has been played in Argentina since 1997, but news from the country has been somewhat hard to come by. Ricardo Acuña has been a driving force in developing the game through the country's alternative sports organisations and his program is still continuing, through a small league known as the AAFAu. Brian Dixon also visited the country last year and established another contact for footy in the country. WFN recently spoke with Acuña about the state of play with the AAFAu, as well as with the AFL about Dixon's new point of contact.
One of the biggest growth markets in world sport has become fresh alternatives - more people are playing ultimate frisbee, American football, lacrosse, korfball, the Gaelic sports and (of course) Aussie Rules worldwide than ever before. Some predicted globalisation would kill off the smaller sports, but it seems that if anything more people are playing a wider variety.
An opening for a new alternative sport to fill a commercial niche market opened in Chile in 2002, and after some research, Adrian Barraza decided Aussie Rules was a prime candidate. The business never took off, but the code survived the project and grassroots footy in Santiago continues.
After stumbling across footage of AFL matches on Argentine TV in the early 90s, Ricardo Acuña, now president of the Argentine Alternative Sports Association, started to think of ways to kick start the code in Buenos Aires.
In 1997 the first game of Aussie Rules was played in the Argentine capital. The league has consolidated, growing to include juniors and schools - but Acuña's next goals include spreading throughout the rest of Latin America.