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Dixon rebooting footy in India

  • Wednesday, December 06 2006 @ 07:38 pm ACDT
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In a previous story we reported on Brian Dixon's world tour to promote Aussie Rules, visiting China, Argentina, the Philippines and Cuba. While in Calcutta last month he held a number of clinics with local schools, putting down the foundations for four clubs in the metropolis and the potential for Indian representation at the 2008 International Cup.

As the second-most populous nation on Earth, India is often reported as a place-to-be for future economic growth and potential. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to get footy going on the subcontinent, an organisation named the Indian Amateur Australian Football Association was formed back in 2001 and were visited by Brian Clarke in 2003. The IAAFA had hoped to tour to Australia in 2004, but for various and controversial reasons the tour didn't happen and the group disappeared.

The next time India reached the headlines in international footy was when the Western Australian Football Commission planned a demonstration match in Mumbai, India's largest city. Whether the WAFC's punt on India ever comes to fruition or not, Dixon's track record on building grassroots leagues is fairly strong, being one of the main drivers behind the beginnings of footy in South Africa. With Calcutta's population around 14 million, and its place as the cultural centre of the almost 250 million-strong Bengali-speaking population, the potential is massive if the planned school and university league can put down roots.

The following article first appeared in Calcutta newspaper The Telegraph on November 16th, 2006 (complete with a picture of Dixon demonstrating a handpass, labelled as "showing how to throw the ball" - footy is indeed a mysterious game for many beginners - as further evidenced by a few mistakes regarding the rules in the article).

Kickstart to sport from Down Under

Brian Dixon demonstrates a throw to students of La Martiniere for Boys on Wednesday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta.

Australian Football is going to be a household name in the city if Brian Dixon of the Australian Football League has his way. At La Martiniere School for Boys for a demonstration of the game, he was delighted with the response from the students. “At least 10 kids show good potential,” he said.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Australian Football originated in the aboriginal game of “mangrook”, apparently using possum skin stuffed with coal for a ball. In 1840, Tom Wills, an Australian cricketer, came back from Rugby, a public school in England, and decided that Australia needed its own game. So he combined the principles of mangrook, soccer and football and came up with the concept of Australian Football. The first match was played in 1858.

Somewhat similar to rugby (the ball is similar to a rugby ball, only smaller), Australian Football is played with two teams of 11 players each in games divided into four quarters of 20 minutes. The idea is to gain possession of the ball, then run, kick and handball it towards the goals. But players cannot run with the ball for more than a distance of 15 metres. Tackling an opponent is allowed, so long as it is done below the shoulders and above the knees.

Initially a game to keep cricketers fit during the non-cricketing season, Australian Football now commands popularity in its own right. Dixon was crucial to the setting up of the branch of the league in South Africa in 2001. He said: “ Starting with 30 primary schoolkids, we now have 3,000 players in 15 leagues.”

On a balmy afternoon, Dixon’s enthusiasm belied his 70-odd years as he explained the game to the students of La Martiniere. After an audio-visual demonstration, he headed to the playground where dividing the students into two teams — those with and without shirts — a practice session of rudimentary Australian Football followed. After a hot and dusty session, Dixon remarked: “They are new to the game but they love it. It is the same everywhere; you make it available to them, they’ll play it.” Why India? “The US and UK play it. After China, India is the largest country in the east. There is no reason why it should not,” he replied.

A former minister of youth, sport and recreation in the Victorian Government, Australia, Dixon has also played Australian Football at the highest level, being selected the Best Player in 1965. He is now the chairman of the Australian league in South Africa. As a part of the league and Football Victoria’s initiative to spread the game to the rest of the world, the body has an Indian chapter of Australian Football in the pipeline. A visit to other schools in Calcutta, including St James School and Calcutta International School, is on the cards in the next few days. Dixon has also approached Calcutta University, which had “responded enthusiastically”.

Dixon, who toured China and Argentina before coming here, added: “We are looking at four teams from Calcutta, each comprising three categories of under-13, under-16 and over. So we are looking at 12 teams, which we hope to make a part of the International Tournament planned for September 2008.”

The league will supply the gear, including footballs and goal posts to players here. There are also plans of sending two people from India on a scholarship to Australia where they will be trained in the game, so that they can teach it back in India. In the city till November 18, Dixon is headed to Manila, where he will participate in the Congress of the Asiania Sports For All Association.

At time of writing, original article here.