Aussie Rules competitions all around the world, including in Australia, often struggle to find enough umpires. Perhaps we haven't been looking in the right places. In another example of innovation in growing Australian Football, AFL South Africa (North West Province) is commencing a program of delivering training in the coaching, umpiring and playing of footy into four correctional centres - Klerksdorp, Christiana, Wolmaranstad and Potchefstroom. No one doubts that the country faces many large challenges as its economy and people continue to overcome the legacy of apatheid and the weight of HIV/AIDS. But it does so with a strong sense of energy and reconciliation, and clearly this extends to its correctional system which has a policy of rehabilitating inmates.
Melbourne newspaper the Sunday Herald Sun today reported that AFL clubs Carlton and Fremantle are currently set to play a match in South Africa next February, possibly as a NAB Cup fixture. The proposed venue for the match wasn't mentioned, although the article did mention that the clubs will take community camps in their affiliated South African development regions.
For the last couple of seasons the Collingwood Football Club have held part of their pre-season training at an elite sports facility at high altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona (USA). But with their commitment to a match against Adelaide in Dubai in the Middle East as well as taking an active role in South Africa's Western Cape province, the Magpies have decided they can't reasonably fit too much overseas travel into one pre-season. So they will shift their high altitude camp to Potchefstroom, in South Africa's North-West province, and support development in Cape Town from there, before heading direct to Dubai.
The push into KwaZulu-Natal is also underway, with the launch of the program in Umlazi. More details of both these initiatives follows.
AFL stars Michael Voss and Jason McCartney with Allison and others at a footy clinic in South Africa
Australian Football is a unique game in the way it combines so many aspects of other sports from around the world, such as Rugby (tackling and an oval ball), Gaelic football (in the running flow of the game and carrying the ball), cricket (an oval field), soccer (possession footy and the importance of foot-skills), volleyball (the underarm serve the closest equivalent to footy's handpass) and basketball with aerial contests. Any Aussie Rules fan will tell you it takes the best parts of all these sports plus many innovations of its own.
The sport has also produced some unique stories. One of my favourites to write was about Benji Motuba (see Long trek from Itsoseng to Riverland for Buffaloes vice captain) and the hope the great Australian game had brought to the young African. Also from Africa comes the story of Allison Simons' journey. Born and raised in Kenya with European heritage, she travelled to England to complete her schooling then visited Australia where she fell in love with the country and its indigenous code of football.
Allison studied in Perth and began playing footy there before moving to Melbourne to do a PhD. While in Western Australia she became heavily involved in the local women's competition, something that would be a taste of things to come. Her journey has now brought her back to Africa, where she lives in one of the townships of Cape Town, leading the way as Australian Football begins putting down roots in African communities. WFN recently interviewed Allison Simons, discussing her world footy adventure.
Geelong Football Club President Frank Costa has won wide praise for his efforts to rejuvenate the Cats since taking over at the end of 1998. The recovery of Geelong is still a story being told, with the team sitting atop the AFL ladder and looking to complete their rise with their first premiership since 1963. Costa's efforts extend beyond the football arena. The family company has become a major force and in addition Frank was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1997 for his services to youth and the community. Now Costa Logistics is combining its business, community and football passions to give young South African's the chance to play footy whilst investing resources in local communities there. Their South African arm have now committed to putting into Australian Football resources worth around AUD$200,000 per year for the next three years, a massive boost to the sport in the country that has become the focus and in many ways the litmus test for internationalising Aussie Rules.
Geelong College are the first Aussie school to embrace Australian Football's journey into Africa. The school currently has a large party of high school students on tour in South Africa, playing football and netball against local sides and assisting with coaching clinics. This could be the start of an exciting new phase for international footy, since many schools conduct overseas trips to places like South Africa that provide tremendous cultural experiences, but now the schools can include the great Australian game as well.
The popular reality television show "The Lost Tribes" on Australia's Nine Network features a group of Australian families from Sydney and Melbourne thrown across the world to remote places to experience a culture shock in tribal settings. This weekend the screened episode showed the families sharing some of their customs with their host tribes for the first time, with the Melbourne family introducing their hosts, a Zulu tribe in South Africa to Australian Football.
In the biggest employment recruitment operation of international Aussie Rules history, the AFL South Africa are currently seeking community development officers, four to be stationed in the North West Province and two each in the provinces of Kwa Zulu Natal, Gauteng and Western Cape. The positions are advertised as having a minimum monthly salary of 2000 Rand, with applications closing on May 9.
As expected the Australian under 17s squad has handed the South Africans a footy lesson in the first official Aussie Rules clash between the two proud sporting nations. Of course from the Africans' point of view that was exactly what they were there for - to learn more about the game from the cream of Australia's junior footballers. As new AFL South Africa Operations Manager Joel Kelly remarked in his review of the clash, the Aussies' form "was to be expected from a group of young men, many of whom will be at AFL clubs in the next year or two". More importantly the launch throughout the tour of FootyWild, the African equivalent of Auskick, was reportedly a great success and marks the start of what is planned to be a massive acceleration of development across the country. Many thanks to Joel for contributing information and photos for this report.
The much anticipated Aussie Rules debut of Sedgars Park, Potchefstroom, is almost here, as the Australian under 17s head to South Africa for the historic match on April 14th. The international, along with the warm-up trial for the touring squad, will be the first games at the cricket ground and hopefully the oval will come through the matches in good condition. AFL South Africa are also planning to use the day to officially launch "FootyWild", billed as "The New Game That Roars".