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AFL India on hold but players keep flame alive

  • Monday, October 05 2009 @ 05:55 pm ACDT
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Following India’s participation in the 2008 International Cup, it appeared that football had finally established a presence in the world’s second most populous country. An AFL India board had been established; the product of ex-VFL footballer Brian Dixon’s earlier work, and despite no clubs, a small playing group and high costs, it managed to get a team to the International Cup. On top of this, the board seemed to have reasonable plans for growing the game in India, based around the country’s major population hubs.

Yet twelve months later there has been no news from the country. World Footy News set out to investigate why.

Our investigation revealed, that in another setback for football in a country with huge potential, the AFL India board is no more. According to Darren Ross, a member of the Indian team in 2008, footy in India, “has become history ever since the Indian team got back from IC08. No notices, no updates on any happenings on footy has taken place.” Josh Vanderloo, the AFL’s National Participation Programs Manager, confirmed the bad news, mentioning in an email that, “the board has dissolved.” WFN believes Mr. Saha and Mr. Nagar shifted their energies to other tasks upon returning to India.

But it's not all bad news. The players from India's 2008 International Cup squad aren't so keen to see the attempt at establishing a sport that several of them consider, "better than cricket or soccer," fail. Team captain Mario Shelton now lives in Canada, and watching last weekend’s Grand Final only furthered his desire to be part of an Indian team at the 2011 International Cup. He still has strong ties back home, keeps contact with a few of the players and is keen to stay involved.

Back in Kolkata, Darren Ross has remained in contact with most of the team. They all thoroughly enjoyed playing football and yearn for the opportunity to keep playing. Following the tournament, they were, “just waiting and hoping that something came up soon.” Hearing the news of the board's dissolution, Ross and a small team of ex-players now plan to, “coordinate their efforts and start something.” They’re aware that they face an uphill battle. “It would take a lot to convince people why to take to the sport in a cricket and soccer dominated country,” but at the same time they have the basic knowledge and love of the game that the administrators before them lacked.

Like many of the more successful non-Australian leagues, Ross and his team plan to initially promote the sport through avenues such as schools. Further down the track, once funding streams are secured and venue hire is an option, they will look at establishing stand-alone clubs. In the meantime, AFL acknowledgement and support are high on their agenda, and World Footy News is attempting to assist with this. Once this is obtained Ross will be able to register the body in India and further down the track he hopes to gain the support of the Sports Authority of India.

Their biggest problem in the meantime, is a lack of resources. Ironically whilst many footballs are made in India, they aren’t easily available in India. Please contact WFN if you're able to help out; we'll start the ball rolling with a donation to be decided soon. Of greatest need are footballs, jumpers (even basic bibs sometimes used in training or Rec Footy), training DVDs and footage of matches, "showcasing the game and leaving a lasting image in the viewers mind." A Facebook page has also been established to serve as a contact point for former and future players.

Hopefully the enthusiasm of these players pays off and in twelve months time we're reporting that Indian footy is on its feet with plans underway to send a squad to their second International Cup.

The Indian journey so far:

Dixon rebooting footy in India
Indian footy - the 2008 International Cup, Croatian connection and Vegemite Vindaloo
India confirmed for International Cup
IPL to AFL - Ponting promoting football in India
IC08 Preview - For Indian footy, the journey has just begun
India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey