After trailing early, Fremantle rallied to defeat Carlton in the ARTH AFL Challenge at SuperSport Park in Pretoria. Sadly the game was marred by an injury to Kepler Bradley resulting in an ambulance coming onto the field. It ultimately proved to be a simple concussion, but given the match was an exhibition to promote the sport in front of thousands of children and their parents, it was a terribly unfortunate incident. We can only hope it didn't dissuade too many spectators from wanting their kids to play the game. Bradley returned to the ground later in the match, so hopefully this was noted by the crowd.
Overall the night seems to have been successful, with an official crowd of 5222, both clubs getting a solid workout, and the Australian indigenous team not unexpectedly too strong for the locals in the curtain raiser. The match also saw Carlton's new Irish recruit, Michael Shields, play his first AFL game.
Besides going live into South Africa on cable channel SuperSport, Saturday's AFL pre-season match between Carlton and Fremantle in Pretoria will be telecast in Australia on Foxtel later in the week. Fox Sports 3 will show the match on Wednesday 6th February at 10 PM AEST and Thursday 7th February at 10 AM AEST, but confirm closer to the date. It's being billed as an AFL Exhibition match.
With the NAB Cup widely regarded as needing changes to excite public interest in Australia (crowds are generally much smaller than the main season), let's hope next year we see an official NAB Cup game in South Africa televised live into Australia. With West Coast and Fremantle both involved in that country, better placed geographically in terms of flight times, and normally drawn to play each other in their NAB Cup openers, it seems the obvious choice to start the 2009 pre-season competition.
The RealFooty website is reporting that the South African government will fund AFL South Africa to the tune of AUD$250,000 as part of an anti-smoking campaign. Hopefully they've got their numbers right and it really is Australian dollars, not Rand (worth about one fifth of an Aussie dollar). If true, it marks another impressive step forward for the game's acceptance there, with the national government obviously impressed with the AFL's commitment and their ability, with AFLSA, to deliver healthy messages to local children. The article values the AFL's annual funding to footy in the African country at AUD$400,000 per annum, with an additional approximately AUD$600,000 coming in sponsorship and other sources, making for a million dollar annual program.
The Australian Indigenous youth squad to tour South Africa has been announced. The tour follows on from the February 2006 tour and a reciprocal visit last season. The team features some well-known surnames and will play the South African youth side as a curtain-raiser to carlton versus Fremantle in Pretoria. In an article on the AFL website, the target of 25000 South African players by 2009 is re-stated.
The Carlton versus Fremantle exhibition match in Pretoria on February 2nd will be no quiet run at an empty park. The game forms the centre-piece for a major campaign to raise awareness of Australian Football in the area and will see thousands of young players bussed in to see the game, live coverage on South African cable TV, and a curtain raiser in which all four of South Africa's footy provinces will be represented for the first time. worldfootynews.com speaks to AFL South Africa's Joel Kelly.
The West Coast Eagles' number one ruckman, Dean Cox, has written a player's perspective on their recent trip to South Africa. The article appears on the PerthNow website. In it, he talks about the conditions the locals endure and the speed with which children learn the game.
"We head out to the Umlazi township again but this time to run a clinic for kids from the orphanage. These kids are amazing. The talent they show from learning the game for about three months indicate that one day there will be an AFL player from Africa".
"I visited the orphanage. We had lollies, Sakatas and bars in our backpacks. We offer them to the kids, which they kindly accept. They take handfulls until all is gone. We notice that one of the younger girls doesn't really get too much food so when everyone has left we hand her another bar.
The first thing she does is open the wrapper, rip a piece off and give it to one of her friends. It was amazing how someone so hungry could share her first bit of a bar with someone else. These kids were just unbelievable".
There's no question that South Africa is the AFL's number one priority in terms of international development of Australian Football. The past couple of years have seen a significant roll out of support programs, some direct funding, and assistance in gaining major sponsorship from corporations such as Tattersal's and Costa Logistics.
Although there are many other programs being developed around the world, both with and without AFL support, the short term successful rise of Aussie Rules internationally would seem to be most closely tied to the South Africa experiment. So it is with great interest to see recent political changes in that country, and the predictions of possible future effects which analysts are now in demand to explain.
The West Coast Eagles have had plenty of media coverage this year - although its mostly for all the wrong reasons. The Australian media picked up over the weekend on a few more positive Eagles stories, with the club now on a pre-season training and development trip to South Africa.
The Eagles are based in the township of Umlazi in the Durban area, where footy only started being played this year. Former Eagles star and current coach John Worsfold was impressed by the progress of the local talent, stating he believes they'll be at WAFL (the West Australian state league) standard within 6-10 years, and infiltrating AFL club lists soon after.
The AFL website has listed all four of the community camps to be held by AFL clubs in South Africa in the coming months. All states and territories of Australia will also have camps (see Lets go camping for more details - also being shown on AFL club websites as "AFL's pitch to the nation and the world"). The South African travels are:
West Coast Eagles from Dec 8 - 15 2007 (KwaZulu Natal, especially Durban and Umlazi)
Collingwood from Jan 20 - Feb 6 2008 (Potchefstroom and Western Cape)
Carlton from Jan 21 - Feb 3 2008 (Gauteng Province)
Fremantle from Jan 27 - 4 Feb 2008 (presumably North West Province)
Exhibition match: Carlton vs Fremantle, SuperSport (formerly Centurion) Park, Pretoria (Gauteng Province), February 2nd 2008.
It's easy to take all this for granted, but if two years ago we'd predicted this much AFL involvement in another country our readers would be posting comments that we were crazy - and resist the temptation now people....