Several years ago AFL South Africa established their base at Senwes Park (formerly Sedgars Park) in Potchefstroom. In summer it's used for cricket and in winter for Aussie Rules (or FootyWILD as it's known there), just like hundreds (maybe even thousands) of grounds across Australia.
But it still no doubt comes as a surprise to Australia's top cricketers when they find themselves looking at AFL merchanise when they arrive at Senwes Park for a tour match. Brydon Coverdale wrote about the ground and the growth of Australian football in South Africa in a recent article for Cricinfo, which covers cricket around the world.
Essendon player Andrew Welsh will make his big screen debut at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, featuring in the arthouse film Falling for Sahara premiering this Friday. Directed by Khoa Do, Falling for Sahara follows the lives of three young African refugees living in Melbourne’s inner-west, who share a passion for Australian Rules football.
An initiative of the Bill Hutchison Foundation and supported by the Essendon Football Club, Falling for Sahara aims to highlight the migration challenges faced by youth from multicultural backgrounds. The romantic drama features a cast of African-Australian actors and newly arrived refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia and reflects the role sport can play in promoting social cohesion in the community.
North Melbourne listed, Sudanese born Majak Daw was the subject of racial abuse as he played for Werribee in the VFL last week at Port Melbourne. The spectator who yelled the racial abuse at Daw was escorted from the ground and has since been banned from attending matches. Daw was upset and felt marginalised by the abuse and subsequently won support from not only his team mates but the whole football community. While this sort of abuse has been around for a very long time, the current attitude is that it is not acceptable and will be acted on to stamp it out immediately, as happened in this case.
And while players in the past just had to put up with it now they are encouraged to speak up about it. Majak's reaction to the event was sought by media outlets across Melbourne this week. The Youtube video below sees Majak interviewed by 3AW's talkback host Neil Mitchell.
We've had some comments and links regarding Ugandan sensation Emmanuel Irra but it's worth noting his rise as a separate article. He first came to our attention last year as a 16 year old when he was selected for the World XVIII to compete in the NAB AFL Under 16s.
Irra made his league debut for South Adelaide a few weeks ago, a remarkable effort at 17 years of age, with only a brief history in the game. Irra is playing some exciting footy and must surely be on the cusp of being drafted into the AFL. With so many young African immigrants in Adelaide playing soccer Irra's success could be a strong positive for footy winning over the next generation. And of course if he makes it to the AFL he could have a similar national significance, as well as continue to highlight the benefits for the AFL of a push into Africa.
Some of his highlights have been posted on Youtube:
Brian Clarke, General Manager of Aussie Rules International, has announced that a proposal for ARI to stage an exhibition match between a South African side and an Australian Indigenous side at the 2011 All-Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique has been accepted by the Games organisers.
The match is planned to take place in the first week of the All-Africa Games (also referred to as the African Games), which will start on the 3rd of September, and would be played in the National Stadium in the Mozambican capital, which has a spectator capacity of 42,000.
When contacted for comment by WFN, Mr Clarke said that ARI is currently seeking sponsors for the project, but he is confident that the required funds will be secured.
Mr Clarke declined to give details on who would be playing, managing or coaching the sides in the match, although he stated that he is currently in contact with a number of different organisations in Australia to select an Australian Indigenous team, and that the South African side would be selected next month.
When contacted by WFN, AFL South Africa operations manager Joel Kelly indicated that the AFLSA is not in any way connected with the All-Africa Games project.
The match has received some coverage in the mainstream Australian media, including this article in Melbourne's The Age newspaper, and this article on Fox Sports.
There are growing calls for North Melbourne to give Sudanese-born Majak Daw his first AFL game. Daw has been exciting the Kangaroos' fans with recent good form with North Melbourne's VFL feeder club Werribee.
worldfootynews.com readers will be keen to see the former refugee make his debut, providing a role model for young African players. The powerfully built player is still relatively new to footy and although North's coach Brad Scott has ruled out a first game this week, he made clear that Daw is on the rise.
"His improvement's been extraordinary. I look at him six months ago and I would have thought he was miles away from being able to play AFL footy, but his improvement was so rapid that we gave him an opportunity in the NAB Cup and he performed quite well in there. If he continues to improve at that rate then he'll be a pretty handy AFL player," Scott said.
Following in the footsteps of Bayanda Sobetwa come two more South African footballers.
Johnviss Tshoboko Moagi, 20, of Johannesburg, and Khayalethu Sikiti, 25, of Cape Town, have signed with South Launceston for the upcoming 2011 Tasmanian State League. Although a bit behind the SANFL, VFL and WAFL, the TSL is still a very high standard and will be a great test for these young men. So too will the chilly Tassie weather.
Bayanda Sobetwa joined Greater Western Sydney in 2010, becoming the first player recruited to Australia from the AFL South Africa program, notionally to an AFL club (although GWS are yet to fully join the AFL). With FootyWILD in many ways the AFL's flagship international program there must also have been a degree of pressure for Sobetwa to perform.
It was a huge step up for a young South African with only a few years in the game, and his statistics playing for GWS in the Under 16 TAC Cup were modest. However he did manage 13 games which will have been invaluable experience, making the best players list twice. With an influx of Australia's best young talent into GWS for 2011 and again in 2012, it was always going to be difficult for the young trailblazer to maintain his spot.
Happily he has found a home with Port Melbourne and a position at the AFL, and will spend 2011 continuing to develop his game. worldfootynews.com spoke to the AFL's International Development manager, Tony Woods, about Bayanda Sobetwa's efforts to keep his dream alive.
Kevin Sheedy and his GWS Giants are continuing their quest to uncover talent of African origin. A recent story revealed Sheedy checking out tall talent at the Sudanese Australian basketball championships at Cambridge Park in western Sydney, and another story focussed on the athleticism and football ability of youngster Zarchariah Sesay, originally from Sierra Leone.
Sheedy also reiterated what he has often stated, which is his desire (and now intent) to chase US basketball talent. "Some 4500 basketballers go through the college system in America but only about 60 get drafted".
With the backing of his new club it will be intriguing to see the ethnic makeup of the GWS Giants in their first few years in the AFL. It could just become the sport's greatest advertisement for enticing future generations of migrants to the game, not to mention the sport's slowly growing international following.
When Cuan Whitefoot moved from Zimbabwe to Perth, Australia, as a 12 year old with his parents, victims of the Mugabe land policies, he thought Aussie Rules was a "girl's game". This may come as a surprise as Australian football often battles a stereotype of being too rough for the liking of some parents. But for kids from a Rugby Union or League background the reverse is true.
Nevertheless Whitefoot came to play the game with his new mates and learned to like it, so much so that now, aged 20, he has dedicated himself to winning a spot with West Perth in the West Australian Football League. His story can be read in Aussie rules for ex-pat .
Unfortunately a few plans to kickstart footy in Zimbabwe itself appear to have fallen over, with the last attempt, running under the website name Zimfooty, no longer live. We'd love to hear from the organiser, Larry Ferrier, if he still has hope for the game there in the short to medium term.