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Footy enters Chilean alternative sports scene

  • Friday, October 15 2004 @ 12:53 am ACST
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South America

One of the biggest growth markets in world sport has become fresh alternatives - more people are playing ultimate frisbee, American football, lacrosse, korfball, the Gaelic sports and (of course) Aussie Rules worldwide than ever before. Some predicted globalisation would kill off the smaller sports, but it seems that if anything more people are playing a wider variety.

An opening for a new alternative sport to fill a commercial niche market opened in Chile in 2002, and after some research, Adrian Barraza decided Aussie Rules was a prime candidate. The business never took off, but the code survived the project and grassroots footy in Santiago continues.

As Barraza recalls, "In 2002 I was working in a sports management and marketing business, and I realized that the reality of the industry here was that we needed to introduce some sports without any presence in Chile to develop and manage them and create profitable activities around them. So I did my research and footy and rugby league were my options. Via the internet, I contacted the IAFC and the AFL for guidance and support. A couple of weeks later I received some footballs, coaching manuals and audiovisual material". He also founded a website, for the provisionally-named organisation Aussie Rules Chile.

"The next step was looking for local support, some expat who could help me to learn the sport and develop it. I was told that Mike Chersi, an Orange County Bombers (USA) player, was here in Chile visiting a friend (Alejandro Dussaillant) so I contacted them and we had a kick in the park. These two guys learned how to play footy when they were at university in the USA working on their PhDs. Then, through the Australian embassy I was told to contact an aussie expat called Simon Shalders (a footy and cricket player) who owns a backpackers hostel here in Santiago. We have had some training sessions with him and some aussie backpackers which had stayed at his hostel. He has been very supporting with my cause".

"At this point, though the entrepeneurial plans hadn't come to fruition, footy had become a passion and I wanted the project to continue even just as a hobby".

Work commitments have made developing the league difficult, but slowly some advances are being made. "Recruiting was tough initially, though I've had some success promoting footy at the Australian Festival run by AusTrade in Santiago. Most of our recruits have been rugby and soccer players - the rugby players in particular taking quite quickly to the game as they generally also have soccer skills and take better to the mix of hand and foot skills required for Aussie Rules".

"We're planning to start with two clubs, playing a ten-a-side league with two separate competitions, one full-contact and the other touch rules. This could then increase up to 18-a-side, but finding grounds big enough to play on in Santiago is difficult. We hope that within five years we could have a league of four teams from the city and a few from surrounding areas, plus a juniors or auskick program."

Ricardo Acuña, president of the Argentine Australian Football Association, has also been working together with the Chilean footballing fraternity - providing Barraza with valuable advice and assistance. An annual test match between the two nations is very much a possibility that both the Chileans and Argentines are eager to pursue.

On the topic of a national side, Barraza is optimistic about the future. "Hopefully we will have a representative team at the International Cup for 2008. Melbourne has one of the biggest concentrations of Chileans outside Chile, and playing in front of that crowd would be fantastic!"