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Rec footy on the move

  • Sunday, October 14 2007 @ 01:02 am ACST
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General News

Back in 2004 the Australian Football League, in conjuction with state leagues, launched Recreational Football, or Rec Footy. Essentially it is non-contact football, played on a smaller field with eight players per side. "Tackles" are made through pulling flags from the player with the ball - a similar concept to flag football in the US, and in the same vein as a touch replacing a tackle in touch football (touch Rugby) in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The new game gives the opportunity for people to play a form of Australian Football over summer in a social setting, without the physical load of traditional Aussie Rules. The game has the potential to fill a crucial hole in the market which allows sports such as soccer and touch football to draw players away from footy. I've written before of the effect touch football has in Australia of introducing the skills and interest in Rugby Union and League to future fathers, mothers and their children. Australian Football clearly needed an equivalent, so as the 2007/08 season approaches it's timely to see how this new sport is going, based on statistics from the AFL's 2006 census. And it's also timely to remind prospective players, those with footy backgrounds and those without but who had always wanted to try the game themselves, males and females, young and not so young, to contact their local associations to find or make a team and launch their Rec Footy experience.

Our first report was AFL Recreational Football. The total number then was 592 players in season one, with Western Australia and Victoria participating.

The 2006 National Census of Australian Football Participation figures reveal very solid growth. It says there were 2213 players in metropolitan competitions and 1044 in country regions, for a total of 3257 players, or about five times as many in the third season as there were in the first. That's still a drop in the ocean compared with the total number of players of Australian Football overall at over half a million, but it's a good start to a new game.

A breakdown of the figures shows some interesting statistics. At first sight it reveals that slightly more players were female (1641) than male (1617). However the statistics have a perfect symmetry about them, other than for one region which leads to the 24 player difference, so it seems that the stats are an approximation. Still, presumably the authors of the report estimated that the sexes are approximately equally balanced in the sport which offers some socialisation advantages not always found in the regular season.

The biggest number of participants was not in Victoria, which normally dominates footy stats in raw terms due to the game's popularity (Victorian males are the fourth most likely per capita to play Aussie Rules, behind Tasmania, Northern Territory and South Australia) and its relatively large population (second most populous state behind New South Wales). But in Rec Footy it's NSW/ACT first with 822 players, then Queensland on 708, Western Australia 672, then Victoria on 510, South Australia 452, the NT with 96 and Tasmania apparently yet to discover the game. (Note the census acknowledges slight rounding errors, so these numbers don't exactly add up to the listed total).

So two questions come to mind - why the slow take up in Victoria, and why hasn't Rec Footy been started in Tassie? On the Victorian side of the equation, it could just be that the full winter version is already strong enough that anyone who might want to play already does. This could apply particularly to women, where conventional Australian Football is already doing very well and growing rapidly. One of the AFL's Auskick and International Coordinators, Josh Vanderloo, told WFN that Tasmania had trialled Rec Footy last year and a competition was on the cards this year.

Also of interest is the relatively good uptake in the so-called non-traditional football states of QLD and NSW (though Aussie Rules still has a long history in each). Perhaps it's a convenient way for prospective players to sample Australian Football without the full commitment to a new game. Or maybe it's a step back into the game they grew up with for some of the thousands of expat Victorians, South Australians and Tasmanians that have made their way to the north eastern states. And no doubt the well financed Auskick programs provide a good framework for the rollout of a new competition.

It is still very early days for Rec Footy, but its first three years have been promising. If numbers are to keep growing then it will probable need a stronger promotional push along, but if the AFL and state leagues wish to do so, they undoubtedly have the resources to make this game a significant part of the summer sporting calendar.

Readers in Australia can find their local contact through the AFL's Recreational Football page.