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The Wheel Turns - article by the AFL's David Matthews

  • Thursday, September 29 2005 @ 01:31 am ACST
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General News

The AFL Record is sold at AFL matches each week around Australia, and has an estimated weekly readership approaching 300,000. In the Round 21 edition a few weeks ago, the AFL's head of Game Development, David Matthews, wrote an article titled "The Wheel Turns", in which he discusses recent growth and hopes for new teams at the next International Cup. It appeared with a photo of New Zealand performing their Haka at the International Cup.

The article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the AFL and AFL Publishing.

The Wheel Turns

Last year at the USAFL Championships in Atlanta, Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy congratulated a gathering of 700 Americans for "discovering rock 'n roll". The "rock 'n roll" he was referring to was Australian Football. "If you think you have found it late, keep in mind it has taken us 2000 years to put wheels on suitcases," he said. The Americans smiled at that!

But Sheedy is right. Better late than never in the case of Australian Football because the rapid growth experienced by our code in other parts of the world is worthy of our consideration and support.

The Australian Football International Cup, which finished last weekend with New Zealand defeating Papua New Guinea on the MCG before the big Carlton-Collingwood clash, is a case in point. Ten countries competed over the 10-day carnival which saw matches played in Melbourne and Wangaratta. The key feature of the competition was that it was not for expatriate Australians - the players were nationals of the countries they represented.

The International Cup was first held in 2002 and the standard of play this year improved greatly on that debut year - in fact, the standard and the lack of ex-pats undoubtedly surprised many onlookers.

The cup is held every three years and celebrates the participation of our game in other countries. It turns out to be just as much a celebration of different cultures - just ask the school children of Wangaratta who enjoyed visits from the Japanese and South African teams or the 5000-strong crowd of country footy people who turned up to matches and were treated to traditional dancing in addition to football.

These countries don't just play every three years; we are seeing a genuine commitment to the development of Australian Football. And like football in Australia, it is provided largely by volunteer effort inspired by a love of the game. It begs the question as to when we will see some further international talent flow through to the AFL competition? There is no shortage of ambition on the part of the countries.

Consider this:

• In PNG, there are thriving competitions in every major centre and representative sides are selected to participate in the AFL Queensland underage championships.

• In South Africa, Australian Football has been accredited as one of 11 official sports supported by the Academy of Sport in the North-West Province. In a short time, under-14 and under-16 competitions have developed to cater for more than 2000 young players. The South Africans are inspired by Michael Long and the indigenous story and how a sport can help build a nation.

• In Japan, a vibrant university-based competition comprises 83 per cent nationals. US sports such as baseball and basketball are generating rapid growth in interest through Asia given recent Japanese and Chinese signings.

• The USA has 44 clubs across the country and will soon launch a new team called the Las Vegas Gamblers.

These are just a handful of examples and with the promotional support of the AFL, the clubs and the players, they can be enhanced and developed.

The next International Cup will be played in Australia in 2008. The AFL has ambitious plans for this event - we are keen to expand the entrants beyond the current 10 countries. We will work to involve Denmark and Nauru to add to the countries that competed this year: USA, Canada, South Africa, Samoa, Great Britain, Ireland, Japan, PNG, Spain and New Zealand. Will we see teams from India, Germany, Sweden and other places where Australian Football has an emerging presence? Let's hope so.

Kevin Sheedy may be right - after all, you see a lot of wheels on suitcases these days.

• David Matthews is the AFL's General Manager-Game Development.

In the same round the AFL Record also featured a story "Kiwis on Top of the World", detailing the results of the 2005 Australian Football International Cup.