Melbourne daily newspaper The Age this weekend reported that the AFL will be holding draft camp-style tryouts in the South African cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, coinciding with the upcoming tour to South Africa by the AIS-AFL under-17 squad.
Similar to the Western Bulldogs' trials in Fiji earlier this year, the project will be partly focussed on recruiting athletes from other sporting backgrounds for the existing AFL South Africa senior programs, as well as selecting up to four South Africans for the "Mtutuzeli Hlomela Scholarship" to attend the AFL Draft camp in Australia later this year.
The league has placed advertisements in Cape Town newspapers calling for boys between 15 and 19 with strong sports backgrounds, who stand a minimum 175 centimetres and weigh at least 70 kilograms, to attend a testing day at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa at Newlands, with follow-up testing also planned. A session near Johannesburg, featuring about 30 boys already identified, will also be held.
AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan said that having introduced the junior program FootyWild to South Africa two years ago, the league's next responsibility was to create an ongoing pathway for talented players.
For the third year in a row the AIS-AFL Australian Under 17 squad will head off to South Africa (departing tomorrow, Sunday 12th April) for a tour that will include training, sight-seeing, working with the locals and a match against the South Africa Lions.
It's expected that the Lions will be a senior squad similar to that which finished third at last year's International Cup and was ranked fourth in the world behind only Australia, PNG and New Zealand in our 2008 rankings. Jason McCartney is expected to again coach the Africans and a few new talented juniors will be given an opportunity. AFL South Africa Operations Manager Joel Kelly told worldfootynews.com that "Several invitational spots (are) being offered to new ‘yet to be identified talent’ as part of a broader search".
The match will be played at Boland Park, Capetown at 3:30pm on Monday 20th April - it has been moved from the better known Newlands due to the sudden transfer to South Africa of Indian's Premier League cricket tournament because of terrorism fears on the sub-continent. Boland Park is described as being in Paarl, "in the beautiful wine district of the Western Cape".
Gold Coast's coach, Guy McKenna, has also been mentioned as making the trip, despite his team underway in the TAC Cup. No doubt his attention will mostly be on Australia's next wave, but given the willingness to sign up two Papua New Guinea players already, surely he will also be very interested in the performance of the younger South African players.
The trip is book-ended by matches against VFL and WAFL sides in Australia. More details follow below.
When Australian Football was starting to ramp up again in South Africa in 2005 a talented young Rugby Union player was introduced to the foreign sport, suiting up for what was then the South African Buffaloes to play against the touring Convicts, a mixed bag of Australian footballers on tour for footy and fun.
The player in question was Duane Vermeulen, already a mountain of a young man. Although new to Aussie Rules he showed tremendous promise at fullback, winning the best player award in the Convicts versus Gauteng Province match. Vermeulen was in training for the 2005 International Cup but according to then coach Steve Harrison, he "broke his hand a couple of weeks before we named the final squad". Harrison had no doubt the young man had talent to burn. "I was spewing because he was a gun".
South African footy was keen to keep Vermeulen as a Buffalo (or under the new image today he would've become a Lion). But in a Rugby mad nation, particularly amongst the white population, and with the IC2005 opportunity gone, it was always likely that he would pursue greater opportunities in Rugby. And so it was that he quickly progressed to become a key player for the Cheetahs in the Rugby Super 14s, the peak southern hemisphere Union club competition that pits 5 clubs from South Africa against 5 from New Zealand and 4 from Australia.
Vermeulen, who plays as a No. 8, has now been head-hunted to Western Cape's Stormers, and has at times been talked about as possibly being called up to South Africa's national Rugby side in future. That would make him the Buffalo/Lion who became a Cheetah and a Springbok. But for AFL South Africa he's a case of the one that got away.
Former players and staff from the Fremantle Football Club crossed the Indian Ocean early today for a week long AFL community camp in the North West Province of South Africa.
The club has called on past players Troy Cook, Justin Longmuir and Luke Webster to assist Fremantle’s Community Development staff in the further development of AFL football in Fremantle’s allocated province.
Cook, Longmuir and Webster will work with the club’s Community Development staff to teach young children in South Africa the necessary skills to compete in the South African Auskick-equivalent ‘FootyWild’.
The travelling party will also have the opportunity to review the development of the North West Province’s talented senior players during a training session on Saturday 14 February. Players will travel from all around the region to participate in this session.
Despite the transfer of the West Coast versus Collingwood NAB Cup match from Cape Town to Subiaco, Perth, the two Western Australian AFL clubs, West Coast and Fremantle, are still keen to play an official match in South Africa in 2010.
The AFL is hoping to return to South Africa in 2010, although a final decision on whether a sanctioned fixture can take place overseas won’t be made until later this year.
Fremantle strategic partnerships general manager, Darren Beazley, has secured commercial partnerships with Nkwe Platinum, Continental Capital and Air Mauritius and [Fremantle chief executive] Rosich said the club intended to foster those contacts.
"We are sending a community development team to South Africa to our province, the North-West province, from February 12 to 16 and that will include a coaching clinic in the Limpopo province".
That's interesting, because Freo's zone, the North West Province, is a long way from Limpopo which borders Kruger National Park in the north east.
Although AFL South Africa lost its marquee event for 2009, the NAB Cup match between Collingwood and West Coast in Cape Town (now moved to Subiaco due to sponsor issues blamed on the global financial crisis), there's still a very busy schedule of exciting events planned.
worldfootynews.com spoke with Operations Manager Anthony "Joel" Kelly, Lions captain Mtutu Hlomela and North West Provincial Development Manager July Machethe, about what will be yet another exciting year for the game in this footy hotspot, which includes tours by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Geelong College, as well as a development camp by Fremantle and the launch of further programs focussed on footy, health, education and employment.
Some of South Africa's finest cricketers were introduced to Australian football and the AFL South Africa program today. Pictured above are, left to right, South Africa’s Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the AFL’s Jason McCartney who coached the AFL South African team at IC08, Collingwood’s Sharrod Wellingham and pace bowler Makhaya Ntini.
A group of South African cricketers and staff, including Johan Botha, Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla and Albie Morkel, visited the Lexus Centre in Melbourne to meet Collingwood players and staff, including captain Nick Maxwell, Harry O’Brien, Sean Rusling and Anthony Corrie, as well as AFL staff David Matthews, Kevin Sheehan, Jason McCartney and Kevin Sheedy. South Africa are currently touring Australia, and although they lost the recent Twenty20 matches, they won the series that counted most - knocking off the Test champions 2 wins to 1.
According to a press release, members of the South African touring party have developed an interest in Australian Rules football having seen how the game has grown in South Africa in recent years, with 17,300 participants now registered in South Africa. Coach Mickey Arthur explained that he follows the sport having gained an interest through his name who happened to be the brother of former AFL player Matthew 'Spider' Burton. The cricketers appeared to enjoy kicking the footies around.
Amla (pictured below studying a football), already a star in Test cricket and touted as a future captain of South Africa, was interviewed on Collingwood TV (warning to international readers, Bigpond probably not available) and although he conceded (whilst dodging football's) that he was unaware of the game being played in his homeland, he could see it had possibilities. Kevin Sheedy gave the cricketers a presentation on AFL South Africa's grass-roots work and was also interviewed.
The Perth Now website reports that AFL club Fremantle will continue with their efforts in South Africa in early 2009 despite the cancellation of the NAB Cup AFL match between Collingwood and West Coast.
According to Dockers chief executive Steve Rosich, "The Fremantle Football Club's community development staff will be conducting a range of activities in South Africa's North West Province in February 2009 and we will continue to work with the AFL to assist in developing strategies to expand the code in South Africa".
"We have long-term agreements with our strategic partners in South Africa, including Nkwe Platinum, Continental Capital and Air Mauritius, and we are committed to our efforts in the North West Province".
Curiously the article states that "The Dockers made a $200,000 profit from their exhibition match against Carlton in Pretoria last February". Our understanding was that the figure was money to be ploughed back into South African development. The article does also say that "Fremantle is on the verge of appointing a SA development officer, to be based in North West Province".
It also reports that "The Eagles, Dockers, Collingwood and Carlton have until late next year to confirm their commitment to future football development in SA".
The AFL today confirmed the speculation in the past week that the Cape Town NAB Cup match between Collingwood and West Coast would be called off due to the global financial crisis, which has seen financial backers withdraw from the venture. Perhaps conveniently this news is swamped by the ongoing saga of one man, Ben Cousins who today was picked up in the Pre-Season Draft by the Richmond Football Club.
While the loss of this match is a massive blow to those in South Africa, in the past week there have been both media articles and posts on football forums by both Collingwood and West Coast supporters who see the match being played in Australia as a big bonus for them. On a positive note for football development in South Africa, it was confirmed that the AIS AFL Academy would tour South Africa for the third year in a row in 2009.
The following is the statement released by the AFL this afternoon:
Melbourne's Herald Sun is reporting that the AFL's NAB Cup match in Cape Town is in doubt due to sponsors pulling out, citing the global financial crisis. AFL corporate affairs manager Brian Walsh said: "A few of our key stakeholders have reviewed their commitment to the game in the context of the world financial situation. We are now looking at that, and what the implications might be for the game".
International AFL matches such as this are largely funded by sponsorship money and rely on corporate packages. In the current economic conditions companies are spending less, and more importantly, want to be seen to be spending less (there have been some high profile cases of public shaming in the United States where company spending has been seen as excessive). The AFL has also advised all clubs to tighten their belts and trumpeted that they are doing the same, whilst also facing growing pleas for further money from clubs such as Melbourne.
In this context it would be quite understandable if the AFL was forced to cancel, and perhaps quite difficult for them to proceed without the sponsors, but it would be a real shame for the South African players and supporters. It has been a decade since the only official AFL match in South Africa (last year's Carlton versus Fremantle game was just an exhibition pre-season game), and taking away the much anticipated return of AFL would send the wrong signals after much recent effort to assure that international development is important.
The Herald Sun article reports that the AFL will likely make a decision in the next few days, and that "It is believed only a last-minute sponsorship arrangement being sought by the AFL can save the match from being transferred back to be played in Australia".
Although the move would not be the end of the world for the South African program it would send the wrong message - let's hope a white knight sponsor emerges, or the AFL Executive makes the tough but strategic call to keep their eye on the game's international growth. In times past the sport's administrators have recoiled and international development has died off - this would be a great opportunity to take a stand for the future. Australian football has given other sports a century head start - now may be the perfect time to make up some of that ground.