Australian rules football around the world

Australian rules football around the world

:"See also:" Countries playing Australian rules football:"See also:" Australian Football International Cup
Australian rules football is a sport played in countries around the world. In 2006, about 16,000 people played in structured competitions outside of Australia and at least 20 leagues that are recognised by the game's governing body, exist outside of Australia. [ [ AFL International Development] ] . This figure had grown to a total of 34,845 participation by the end of 2007. [ [ AFL International Census 2007] ] In contrast, there are over 600,000 players in Australia where the game is at its strongest and overseas players make up less than 2% of the total players worldwide. Although semi-professional players have come from outside of Australia, and there have been several players in the VFL/AFL who have were born ouside Australia, no player to learn the game overseas has yet played a game in the Australian Football League.

The growth of Australian rules in the 19th Century and early 20th Century was rapid, but it went into rapid decline following World War I. After World War II, the sport experienced a small amount of growth in the Pacific region, particularly in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

Australian rules football is emerging as an international sport much later than other forms of football such as soccer or rugby, but has grown substantially as an amateur sport in some countries since the 1980s. Initially the sport has grown with the Australian diaspora, aided by multiculturalism and assisted by exhibition matches and players who have converted to and from other football codes. In Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States there are many thousands of players and these countries. Canada, Japan, Denmark and Sweden have also shown strong potential in the sport amongst local players in the lead up to the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.

The AFL became the defacto governing body when it pushed for the closure of the International Australian Football Council in 2002.

Australian rules football is played professionally only by men in Australia and is major spectator sport only in Australia, with the exception of occasional exhibition games staged in other countries and carnival type events overseas.

Although the game is played in many countries, Australian Football League as world governing body only has 13 affiliated international governing bodies, AFL Canada, Danish Australian Football League, BARFL, AFL Japan, ARFLI, Nauru Australian Football Association, New Zealand AFL, USAFL, AFL South Africa, AFL PNG, AFL Samoa, Tonga Australian Football Association and AFL Germany, although the league has working relationships with bodies in additional countries who may form affiliation agreements in future and have sent (or may in future send) teams to the International Cup.

History of Australian rules outside Australia

Early beginnings

Almost as soon as the game was becoming established in Australia, it had spread to New Zealand and South Africa, initially because of the Otago Gold Rush and Witwatersrand Gold Rush. The game was further fuelled in South Africa by Australian soldiers in the First and Second Boer Wars.

There were reports of early competitions in England, Scotland and also Japan, started by expatriate Australians and servicemen.

The First World Governing Body and International Competition

In New Zealand, where proximity to Australia saw a formidable league, quickly grew to a formidable 115 clubs by the turn of the 19th Century. As the game spread, it became known as "Australasian Football", with delegates from New Zealand added to the newly formed Australasian Football Council.

In 1908, New Zealand defeated both New South Wales and Queensland at the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival, an event held to celebrate 50 years of Australian Football.

Decline & hiatus

World War I saw the game being played by Australian servicemen around the world, particularly in Egypt and in Europe in France, Belgium and England.

Following the war, the game went into a sharp decline outside of Australia, with all domestic competitions dying out. National teams and international competition in the sport were non-existent for three quarters of a 20th Century. The return of many Australian expatriates from overseas goldfields and tours of duty combined with Australia's low profile on the world stage offered few opportunities for the game to grow during this time. With the withdrawal of its New Zealand delegates, the sport returned to the title of "Australian Football", governed by the Australian Football Council. Concerned primarily with the growth of their own domestic competitions, the Australian leagues and governing bodies made little effort to develop or promote the game until the 1950s, and the council's role was mainly to oversee the growing importance of interstate test matches.

Nevertheless, the longest running fixture outside of Australia, the annual Oxford University versus Cambridge University match in England has been held since 1921 and has emerged into a fierce rivalry, and worthy of half-blue status at Oxford. [ Triumphant Oxford are rucking great from] Apart from this match, however the game was rarely played in England.

Return of Oceania football

The only overseas place where the sport has been continuously played is the former Australian trustee mandate of Nauru, which began both senior and junior local competitions in the 1930s. The sport was also introduced Territory of New Guinea in 1944 and the Territory of Papua in 1948.

World War II saw some servicemen play the game overseas, particularly in Asia in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia and Africa in Egypt and Algeria. During the Vietnam War, matches were even played by servicemen against the local Vietnamese.

In the 1960s, Australian leagues began to show some interest in expansion of the game outside of Australia. 1963 saw the first Australian rules football exhibition matches played in the United States. Australian state leagues began occasionally promoting themselves in this way throughout the following decades.

In 1967, it was reported in the VFL Record's "Footy Facts" column that Australian football clubs existed in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town and that the VFL was optimistic about the future of the game in South Africa. [AFL Record. Round 6, 2007] Little is known of how or when these clubs had formed or what later became of them.

Since 1967 there have been many matches between Australian and Irish teams, under various sets of hybrid, compromise rules. In 1984, the first official representative matches of International rules football were played, and these were played annually each October until 2006.

New Zealand resumed a local competition in 1974.

By 1975, Papua New Guinea had gained peaceful independence and test matches began to be played against teams from Australia. The first ever full international match involving Australia was played in 1977 at under 17 level between Australia and Papua New Guinea in Adelaide, with Australia taking the honours. [cite web | title=1977-1980 | work=Full Points Footy | url= | accessdate=2006-07-14] Since then, Australia have been peerless in the sport and seldom compete at international level.

Despite these small advancements to the international aspects of the game, progress overseas was rarely covered in the Australian media.

Modern era - The game begins abroad

In the late 1980s, successful VFL exhibition matches attracted large crowds and spawned fledgeling local competitions in both Japan and Canada. The Australian media showed only a token interest in the matches in London and Japan involving VFL clubs. It was during this decade that the sport was first televised in North America and the United Kingdom.Some nationalities respond well to less formal means, and much in the progress of a culture, and of its trends in games and sports activities is also often achieved spontaneously and via members of the lay public - that is, outside formally organized programs and means - by those who simply love something. With reference to the game's development, for instance, in the island nation of Tonga, it is in this vein that it becomes worthy of note that although Australian football was not properly and formally established in Tonga until 2003 that this was by no means the first time in which Tongans had played the game on their own soil. During the Christmas break of 1985-1986, for instance, one Denis Towers, of Melbourne, Australia - a physical education teacher at the time - visited Tonga briefly with his native-born wife, and engaged some 40 Tongan men from the local villages of Hautu-Fahefa, for some 2 hours one afternoon at the local primary school grounds in playing the game. So keen were they, in fact, on the game that when he had to leave the grounds to attend to family matters, the men continued their play of the game for quite some time. Further, it has also come to notice that during the late 1990's, one Ewen Gracie, a former Melbourne primary school and sports teacher, also spent a few years employed at Liahona High School, in Tonga, during which time he also made time to teach young Tongans the skills of the Australian football game.

Game Spreads

The largest barriers to growth of Australian rules football internationally have traditionally been distance, field availability and player numbers. With a total of at least 36 player required for a game and a cricket sized pitch, this made it difficult for organisers in countries where space was a premium, enclosed grounds were not available and attracting participants would prove difficult. While these factors were not a problem in Papua New Guinea or New Zealand, they did pose large problems to leagues in Europe, Asia and America. The more inventive of organisers began to accept modified versions of the game, such as 9-a-side, often played on any available field, open space, parks, soccer or rugby fields. These approaches to the game were highly successful.

In the late 1980s, as these factors became less of an obstacle, amateur leagues were established in Japan (1987), England, Denmark and Canada (1989). In the case of Japan and Canada, these were directly sparked by VFL exhibition matches.

In the 1990s, the Australian diaspora had spread and amateur competition has grown in countries such as Sweden (1993), Germany (1995), USA (1996), Argentina, Spain and Samoa (1997), South Africa (1998), as well as a number of solely expatriate teams, mainly based in South East Asia.

During this time, the VFL had expanded to become the AFL and in turn commanded a greater national and international audience. Word of the sport grew out of AFL exhibition matches, cult television following and Internet communication. North American fans formed an organization, AFANA, specifically to work for improved media coverage of Australian football.

The traditionalists in the governing bodies of Australia (which became the AFL) were reluctant to sanction any games which were not played exactly according to the Laws of the Game, and the AFL initially did not recognise leagues which played the game on fields that did not closely match the proper dimensions or had less than 16 players per side.

Since the 1990s, these attitudes have changed somewhat and the AFL and other development bodies have directly contributed to the development the game overseas.

Formation of a World Governing Body and International Competition

The International Australian Football Council (IAFC) was formed after football first featured at the Arafura Games in 1995.

Since 1998, the Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, endorsed by the AFL as part of its International Policy, has hosted several junior teams from other countries.

Since 2000, fledgeling competitions have been established in countries such as Ireland (2000), Tonga (2002), Scotland, France and China (2005).

Television and the Internet have since helped to increase the awareness of the game outside of Australia.

Inspired by successful Arafura Games competitions, the inaugural Australian Football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2002, an initiative of the IAFC and the AFL. The first International Cup also marked the beginnings of a very small media interest in the international aspects of the game in Australia.

At the 2002 International Cup, meetings held between the AFL, IAFC and international teams at the International Cup saw the AFL become the de facto world governing body for the sport, with the leagues linked to the teams affiliating with the AFL. Some of the members of the IAFC disputed this move and continued the organisation in name. This organisation was finally completely dissolved in 2005, dropping all public claims to being the world governing body for the sport and being replaced by the development organisation Aussie Rules International.

Leaders of the Pack & Increasing Growth

In recent years, the game has grown particularly strongly also in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand where local player numbers are booming. In overall percentage terms their increases are high in comparison to the overall growth of the sport in Australia, however their total player numbers are at least 200 times less, making senior competition involving Australia at open level unlikely until at least 2020.

In 2005, after 8 years of growing domestic competition, the South African government declared Australian Rules Football the sport for "the new South Africa", injecting government funding into the sport. [ [ South Africa embraces Australian Rules football] ]

In 2006, Pakistan, Indonesia, Catalonia, Croatia, Norway, Bermuda and East Timor joined the list of playing nations with local players participating.

On July 3, 2006 the AFL announced that it had formed an International Development Committee to support overseas leagues. The AFL hopes to develop the game in other countries to the point where Australian football is played at an international level by top-quality sides from around the world. The AFL plans to host the International Cup regularly every four years, beginning in 2008, the 150th anniversary of the code. [cite web | title=AFL International Development plans | work=World Footy News | url= | accessdate=2006-07-14] Following the AFL's interest in the internationalisation of the game, coverage in the Australian media grew substantially.

On April 14, 2007, Australia's AIS Under 17 squad competed against the South African national Australian rules football team in the historic first international match between the two countries at North West Cricket Stadium in Potchefstroom, South Africa. [ [ Aussie talent all class on African footy's big day] from] In the same month, a massive junior program called "Footy Wild", similar to Auskick was launched in the country.

International competition

The first truly international competitor in Australian rules was New Zealand. In 1908 the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australian rules football. New Zealand (then representing a total of 115 clubs) defeated both New South Wales and Queensland in the carnival but lost to Victoria and Tasmania.

The Arafura Games, held in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia (a competition for northern Australia, South East Asia and Pacific Islands) were the first International games to have Australian football as a competition sport, rather than a demonstration sport in 1995. Papua New Guinea won the Gold medal and retained it in subsequent games. Other teams that have competed at Australian Rules in the games include Japan, Nauru and a Northern Territory indigenous team. The International Australian football Council (IAFC) was formed after the 1995 Games (source IAFC).

Inspired by successful Arafura Games competitions, the inaugural Australian Football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2002, an initiative of the newly formed IAFC. The 2002 cup was contested by 11 teams from around the world made up exclusively of non-Australians. Ireland won the 2002 cup, defeating Papua New Guinea in the final.

In the interim years, Japan and New Zealand played an annual game as a curtain raiser to an AFL game: the New Zealand national team were victorious by 100 points in 2003, and so in 2004, a club side from Auckland played the game, which Japan lost by two points. The amateur Australian Convicts also toured and played several matches against sides from developing nations.

The second Australian football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2005, under the direction of the guidance and funding of the AFL with New Zealand defeating Papua New Guinea in the final, with third place going to the United States of America.

The third Australian Football International Cup will be held in Melbourne in 2008.

In 2006 Denmark, Sweden and Germany competed in a tri-nations series, which will be repeted annually.

Other international competitions that include Australian ex-patriates are also held, including the EU Cup, which was first held in 2005 in London, featuring 10 teams. In 2007 was held in Hamburg with 12 teams.

World rankings

There is no world governing body and the AFL does not keep statistics for matches that it does not sanction (i.e. anything other than the International Cup) so for rankings, see the International Cup all time standings.

International rules Australia vs Ireland

A series of hybrid International rules matches between the Australian Football League's best professional players and a representative Gaelic football team from Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association amateur players. The series is staged annually. The rules are a compromise between the two codes, using a round ball and a rectangular field. The fierce tackling of the Australian code is allowed, however more recently this has caused controversy with the Irish players who play a less violent contact game. The series have remained evenly matched with the Irish using speed and athleticism, and the Australians strength and power - both inherent skills in their respective codes. This contrast of skills has created exciting contests that are a hit with spectators.

International promotion, funding & governance

The International Australian football Council (IAFC) was formed in 1995 to promote and develop Australian football internationally. In 2005 a new organization was set up - called Aussie Rules International - by former IAFC member Brian Clarke in London. This successor to the IAFC promotes itself as an international organisation for developing (not governing) international Australian football. As well as playing a role in promoting aussie rules overseas, Aussie Rules International coordinates the Multicultural Cup aimed at instilling national pride in those born overseas and encouraging migrants to take up the game.

Australian football is not yet considered large enough internationally for a FIFA styled governing body, so the Australian Football League is primarily responsible for funding and governance and provides $29 million for development of the game in Australia and around A$500,000 annually for international development, with the following breakdown in 2005:

*New Zealand $150,000
*South Africa $100,000
*United States of America $90,000
*Papua New Guinea $45,000
*Other $115,000 [ [ Union in Aussie rules] by Caroline Wilson from the Age August 14, 2005]

Much of the additional international promotion of the game fuelled by exhibition matches, expatriate Australians, local leagues and various AusAID projects.

High profile advocates

Although international football has a low profile within Australia, the issue is getting increased media exposure as several high profile Australians have become advocates for international football. Former players and coaches that are involved in, have expressed interest in or are passionate about international footy at some stage include Ron Barassi, Kevin Sheedy, Jim Stynes, Paul Roos, Michael Long, Garry Lyon and Wayne Schwass. Current players who have expressed views or interest on the topic include Mal Michael, David Rodan, James Bartel, Jason Akermanis, Jason McCartney and Glen Archer. Former AFL players Mark Zanotti and John Ironmonger have been directly involved in living and establishing clubs overseas. Robert DiPierdomenico and Peter Schwab have been involved in promotions in the USA. Other non-players such as John So, Eddie McGuire and Tiffany Cherry have also expressed interest in the media about game being played or watched by people overseas.

Women development and competition

Several countries now have Women's Australian rules football Australian rules programs in place. These countries include Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, USA, Canada, England, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.

Women's International Rankings

Junior development and competition

Several countries now have youth Australian rules programs in place. These countries include Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Nauru, Denmark, South Africa, England, Indonesia, USA and Canada.

Since 1998, the Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, endorsed by the Australian Football League as part of its International Policy, has hosted several of these nation's representative youth teams.

The first junior fully representative international outside of Australia was played between England and Denmark in Farum, Denmark in October 2005. [cite web | title=AFL Roller Coaster Ride for Danes on the International Front | work=World Footy News | url= | accessdate=2006-07-22]

The Jakarta Bulldogs Australian Football Club [ [ Jakarta Bulldogs] ] , founded in 2006, is an Aussie Rules Football Club made up of Under 18 year old expratriate and local students in Jakarta. The team has played against local Australian Football teams such as the Pancawati Eagles, Depok Garudas and the Jakarta Bintangs.

pecific development projects

outh African AusAID project

An AusAID funded project is South African junior development began in 2003, which is assisted by aid agency Australian Volunteers International in partnership with programs such as AFL Auskick and sponsored by Tattersalls as well as the South African North West Academy of Sport.

Aussie Rules Schools (England)

Another junior project funded project is Aussie Rules Schools UK, which is funded by Sport England and co-ordinated by Aussie Rules UK and Aussie Rules International. This project has seen up to 10 English schools adopt Aussie Rules as part of the school curriculum to combat obesity.

China AusAID project

In February 2006, a joint project between the AFL, Melbourne Football Club, Melbourne City Council and AusAID to post an Australian Youth Ambassador in Tianjin, a city of 10 million, about 120km southeast of Beijing in an effort to kickstart Australian Football in China was announced. [ [,8033,18039362%5E20322,00.html Melbourne's China experiment a reality] by Brett Northey for World Footy News. May 18 2006]

Pacific AusAID projects

Full-time development officers are in Tonga and Samoa as part of AusAid projects since 2005.

International drafts & converts

International Players

Although no non-Irish player to learn the game overseas has played in the AFL, Michito Sakaki from Japan became the first to play at AFL level when selected to play for the Essendon Football Club against the Sydney Swans at an exhibition match at North Sydney Oval in February 2006.


Gaelic converts to Australian football

Australia has recruited several Irish Gaelic footballers to play Aussie Rules. As Gaelic football is primarily amateur competition and the AFL competition is professional, there is a strong financial lure. In the 1990s, the Melbourne Football Club recruited Jim Stynes who would turn out to be the most successful Irish player in the history of the VFL/AFL, taking out the Brownlow medal. At around the same time, the club recruited the Scot Sean Wight. In more recent years, the Sydney Swans recruited young Irish Tadhg Kennelly who played in a premiership with the club and has also represented Ireland against Australia. Carlton Football Club experimented with brothers Setanta Ó hAilpín and Aisake Ó hAilpín. The Collingwood Football Club has recruited young Martin Clarke and Brisbane Lions recruited Colm Begley who made an instant impact at AFL level and Brendan Quigley to their international rookie list. Due to increasing concern from the Gaelic Athletic Association, in 2006 the AFL made a deal with the GAA to limit the number of junior Gaelic drafts.

Australian football converts to American football (Gridiron)

Australia has exported players to the NFL. Since the 1980s, many AFL players have tried out as American Football punters. The kicking position requires similar skills to those found in Australian football players. Salaries are up to 5 times higher and the position lends itself to longevity. Australian football players generally retire at around 30, whereas American football punters can play well into their forties.

The first convert was Colin Ridgeway, but the most successful of these players was Darren Bennett - former Melbourne Football Club AFL player recruited by the San Diego Chargers, now playing for the Minnesota Vikings.

Shortly after Darren Bennett became successful in the NFL in the early 90s, many other VFL players followed suit, including journeyman Richard Osborne and Footscray fullback Tony Campbell. Kangaroos and Crows champion Wayne Carey [ [ Carey can ride off into sunset with Cowboys] from Sydney Morning Herald. March 27 2002] was also rumoured to have tried out with the Cowboys. Many of these were unsuccessful.

In 2004, Geelong Football Club star Ben Graham shocked fans by cutting his career short to play with the New York Jets [ [ Benny and the Jets] by Scott Spits for Sportal 27 October, 2004] . In the same year, retired Brisbane Bears and Hawthorn Football Club Nathan Chapman achieved a punting contract with the Green Bay Packers. [ [ Packers Re-Sign DL Larry Smith, Add Australian P Nathan Chapman] 29th March 2004] While Ben Graham made the grade and achieved a million dollar contract, the career of Nathan Chapman did not take off.

More recently, Collingwood Football Club's Anthony Rocca [ [ Buckley supports Rocca NFL move] from ABC Victoria. 21 December 2005] and his brother Saverio Rocca have both indicated their intention to try out at the conclusion of their AFL careers. [ Rocca learns a punting lesson] from the Age. November 4, 2006] Following Saverio's retirement from the AFL he was given a 3 month contract with Rhein Fire which led to a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, while Anthony continues to play for Collingwood. In 2006, NFL began more actively scouting Australian Rules players.

ee also

*List of Australian Football Leagues outside Australia
*Australian Football International Cup
*List of International Australian rules football Tournaments
*Australian rules football exhibition matches


External links

"News and Results Sites"
* [ Fourth Quarter] - Independent reporting of international Australian rules football
* [ The Footy Record] - Results from around the globe
* [ Aussie Rules Global Invasion] - Independent reporting of international Australian rules football
* [ World Footy News] - Independent reporting of international Australian rules football

"Fan sites"
* [ BigFooty] - International Footy Forum of the Largest unofficial Aussie Rules fan community site and forum

"Governing bodies"
* [ AFL International Development]

"International tournaments"
* [ Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament]
* [ Australian Football International Cups 2002, 2005, 2008]

"Promotional organisations"
* [ Aussie Rules International]
* [ Aussie Rules Europe]
* [ Aussie Rules UK]
* [ Aussie Rules Pacific]
* [ Australian Convicts] - Amateur touring side that helps support international leagues
* [ Australian Football Association of North America (AFANA)]

"International leagues"
* [ U.S. Australian rules football League]
* [ Women's footy USA]
* [ DAFL - The Danish Australian Football League]
* [ AFLG - The Australian Football League Germany]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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