In a surprise announcement from AFL Headquarters this week, the league has announced a major boost to its programs in South Africa with a view to the nation joining the Australia-Ireland International Rules series by 2008 at under 17s level, the seniors following before the end of the decade. The announcement also displayed an optimistic change in the tone of official announcements relating to international Aussie Rules, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou notably upbeat about the arrival of an AFL club drafting directly from Africa being close to hand.
Melbourne daily newspaper The Age today reported that a development squad of 22 young Australian Aboriginal footballers would tour South Africa next month, under the leadership of indigenous AFL stars Adam Goodes and Michael Long. The squad will leave on February 19, spending two weeks visiting black communities in the North West Province and playing three matches.
New South African coach Mtutu Hlomela (pictured) was a strong player for the Buffaloes at the 2005 International Cup and afterwards stayed on to learn about AFL operations. He also toured other states, building up relationships in the Australian Football community. During Mtutu's stay the concept of an Aboriginal tour was worked out and it is tremendous news that it is occurring so quickly.
Australian football continues to be developed
amongst children at an increasing rate in South Africa, in particular the
Northwest Province. Recently a Roadshow was completed in which "11
communities were visited, about 700 kids were reached and about 50 community
volunteers were involved in the training sessions and trained to take
up football on their own". The game has recently been introduced into
the villages of Morokweng, Schweizer-Reneke and Dithakong, which are all
in the Bophirima region of NW Province. From a personal point of view,
when World Footy News has been under pressure lately, it was also very
pleasing to see one of our writers (Jake Anson) and one of his mates
involved in the "Aussies on the Road" program, in which AFL South Africa gives
Australian tourists a unique look at the country whilst the visitors help
teach children Aussie Rules. It reminds us of some of the good things
that we can assist with, makes some of the sacrifices worthwhile, and makes it clear that we should continue the site for the good of football.
Jake spent a couple of days with the program whilst on holiday and we'll
no doubt get some great reports from him in the next few weeks or
Australia has recently seen a surge in African migration, and no doubt footy administrators will be keen to see some of these new arrivals embracing Australia's national football code. One such potential recruit is Mayong Akoon, a 15 year old Sudanese boy who started playing footy in the school yard 4 years ago with friends and has now been picked up by the Calder Cannons in Victoria's elite under 18 competition.
Although it has its problems, South Africa is a wonderful place to visit - the spectacular high veldt, the wildlife, the people and culture of the Rainbow Nation, as they call themselves (a rainbow of different colours and cultures). But there is something more that can be gained than just the usual tourist experiences. Getting close to the people and really feeling the warmth of their welcome is something that can seem out of reach - but footy can get you there.
Sport often generates great stories of people rising above adversity. This is one such story, following the journey of a young South African from a dead-end path on the streets of Itsoseng to a scholarship in the South Australian Riverland and representing his country in Melbourne at the Australian Football International Cup.
The recent World Footy Census clearly demonstrates that the big two countries in developing Aussie Rules outside of Australia are Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. This relates to their large junior programs, with thousands of children participating. Recent AFL South Africa announcements suggest that country remains on track to join those countries in the next few years.
For some reason St Kilda's tour of South Africa last year caused more attention on world Aussie Rules than just about any other event. Even the Pacific edition of Time Magazine has recently run a story.
For many of the Australian Convicts players who toured South Africa in February, the clinics for kids was one of the highlights. Although the matches were fun, and the sightseeing impressive, the personal contact made in less-visited places was something special. After the tour many of the players also went on to visit other places in southern Africa, such as Cape Town, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe and Zambia) and Chobe National Park in Botswana. Here we talk about the clinics, and note that the previous stories on the matches have been updated with photos.