How times have changed. Fans of international footy have spent years bemoaning the lack of AFL games staged overseas to promote the Aussie code - now AFL clubs are fighting over the right to play such matches.
It has been reported that West Coast will clash with Collingwood in Cape Town in a NAB Cup match to open the 2009 AFL pre-season competition. Given that most of the clubs that travelled this year had slow starts to the season, it's heartening to see they haven't been discouraged from further international trips.
However Fremantle, also involved in South Africa, are reported to be upset with the decision (which is yet to be confirmed), as they too were enthusiastic about a South African match. The club signed up major sponsorship money in their last trip and made it very clear they were keen to return. With the NAB Cup draw yet to be released and four clubs working in South Africa (Carlton being the other), is there a good reason why a second match shouldn't be played there in 2009? Some fans will be disgruntled, but given the turnout for first round NAB Cup matches in Australia are relatively poor, the series more about practice and TV, wouldn't it be great to see two matches in South Africa and one each in India and Florida.
While there is general consensus among the chiefs at the AFL that South Africans will be recruited to the AFL in the next 3-5 years the question is how? Although there has been plenty of development action and visits from Australia, the biggest issue facing the growth of the code in the African country could be a clearly defined pathway.
Australian Football truly is growing rapidly in South Africa, with Western Cape one of the newest regions but already boasting a four team competition to add to their junior clinics program. The finals of their inaugural season (the year will be split into multiple seasons), dubbed footyWILD Extreme, have just finished, with Khayelitsha Divines challenging favourites the Nyanga Thunderstorm in a closely fought battle. The region has also secured sponsorship and the assistance of The Salamander Company to help with promotion - the following report is courtesy of them.
The Australian Institute of Sport / Australian Football League elite youth squad has just completed its second tour of South Africa. The following report is courtesy of AFL South Africa, with additional reporting by this author.
“Don’t fence me in” said Kevin Sheedy, as he spoke to the AIS/AFL Academy and South African teams on the eve of the second International game between the two countries this week. One nation has been playing the game for 150 years; the other an emerging country which has only just embraced the Aussie game in the last ten years, with major progress made in the last 12 months. After travelling Australia spruiking the 150 message and talking up international footy, and having visited both the US and Canada previously, we think this was Sheedy's first trip to the AFL's best supported international project.
The message was clear from one of the most visionary men in the game’s history. “The closer the world gets and the more I see other games such as soccer, rugby and American football, the more I am convinced that we have the greatest game on the planet and we should be sharing it with the rest of the world – South Africa is well and truly part of that vision”, said Sheedy at a special function in Potchefstroom in the North West Province on Monday night ahead of Tuesday’s International clash.
The Australian Indigenous under 16 side, the Flying Boomerangs, have completed their African tour undefeated, knocking over the locals 164 to 38 in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The match was preceded by an under 13s game between the home town and another local area, Nyanga. In another good sign for development of the sport, both matches received some local media coverage, an important step in exposing locals to footy and opening people's mind to the game.
There's been a couple of good reports on Game 2 of the South African development team versus the Australian Indigenous side. The two sides met in kwaMashu (near Durban) and with plenty of local promotion a crowd variously stated as "over 1000" and "2500" turned up to cheer on the home nation (and boo the Aussies - at least they're passionate!)
Pleasingly the match got some local press, something that Australian Football hasn't had a lot of in South Africa thus far, at least not showing up in on-line searches (which admittedly may not be the best resource in a country such as this).
Read Yusuf Moolla's report, Local ground transformed into Australian football field, online in South Africa's The Mercury. The image to the right of the article suggests it was accompanied by an action photo from the game. AFL Commissioner Colin Carter was on hand to witness the game's early growth in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
The Aboriginal side pulled away in the first three quarters of the 16-a-side match, but obviously the locals were competitive. In what was presumably a sporting gesture to test their own players and allow the South Africans a chance to fight back in front of their supporters, the Boomerangs played with 14 on the field towards the end. The Buffaloes duly fought back with five unanswered goals, much to the delight of locals. But the Australians hung on to win 11.10 (76) to 8.9 (57).
After their 100 point loss to the Australian Boomerangs side, South Africa's developmental team headed down to Kwa Zulu Natal province to pick up some more talented locals ready for Game 2 in Kwa Mashu, near Durban, on Wednesday 6th February. We'll have a report on that match as soon as possible.
Next up is the third and final match, again to feature a large contribution of locals, this time in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, in the Western province. Local development officers have been talking up the event to get the community involved, advertising the match as the first ever international Australian Football game to be held in Cape Town. Details are:
Khayelitsha Cricket Oval (Town 2, behind Law Courts), Saturday 9th February
Performances by the Kwaito Group "All Blacks" and traditional dance group "Imduyekezo Mat", music by DJ D Lo, competitions, prizes and giveaways.
12pm Curtain raiser - Nyanga vs Khayelitsha under 13s
2pm Main game - South Africa vs Australia (Indigenous Youth Team)
4pm Speeches and medal presentation
6pm Post-match function at Mzoli’s, Guguletu
Just a quick reminder that last Saturday's AFL pre-season match between Carlton and Fremantle in Pretoria will be telecast in Australia on Foxtel. Fox Sports 3 will show the match on Wednesday 6th February at 10 PM AEST (immediately after the soccer) and Thursday 7th February at 10 AM AEST.
Not surprisingly the talented Australian indigenous under 16s team has given the South African development side a football lesson in the curtain raiser to the Carlton-Fremantle AFL match in Pretoria. The Aboriginal side contains some of the best young players in Australia and raced away with the match, finishing up 100 point winners. It was pleasing to read that the home side had the support of an enthusiastic crowd - giving the locals someone to barrack for is an aspect of getting people involved in sport that should never be overlooked.
The result demonstrates that patience will be needed with the South African program. For all the good news stories we're seeing, and thousands of children involved in Auskick's equivalent, FootyWild, it will take a few years for the cream of those young players to become skilled at Australian Football and make their way into AFLSA's national sides.
North West province is the only region with sustained development over several years and the bulk of the Buffaloes sides have come from there. With AFLSA keen to spread the game further, and some of the best prospects from the recent talent camp being included in their youth squad, it's actually conceivable that this year's side may have more "athletes with potential" but less experienced footballers. So the results of this year's 3 match series should be regarded as a baseline from which to judge future matches. Having said that, in the next two games South Africa will feature even more raw young recruits from other provinces.
AFL Indigenous Youth Team: 5.3 10.4 14.6 19.9 (123)
South African Buffaloes development squad: 0.3 1.7 2.10 2.11 (23)