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AusAID hits the mark

  • Friday, August 20 2010 @ 06:39 am ACST
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General News

The Australian Government's major overseas aid program is AusAID, which is described on its website as "the Australian Government agency responsible for managing Australia's overseas aid program. The objective of the aid program is to assist developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia's national interest".

For many years the program has funded, amongst many other positions, Australian football development roles in selected countries such as South Africa and Australian Youth Ambassadors to Tonga and elsewhere. In recent months this funding has attracted criticism from media in Sydney, notably by writers with strong leanings to other football codes.

So are taxpayers getting value for the money spent? Are recipient countries having valuable aid wasted on football?

One can't help but to suspect the criticism is motivated by rivalry from other sports. But the question can wander through the mind, even of an Aussie Rules fan, as to whether footy development is the best use of the aid.

However an analysis of what is being achieved should dispel such doubts. There is a growing awareness across the world that aid to developing nations for programs purely for food or shelter, whilst vital, does not necessarily provide long term improvements to the lives of people. Increasingly there's a recognition that helping start-up businesses and providing employment is the real key to sustained change. And that's what is being achieved with AusAID and Australian football, with support from other sources such as Australian Volunteers International who have over the years helped provide support for Australian volunteers into South Africa.

Very modest funding to South Africa helped keep the game alive there, supporting people such as Australian Steve Harrison running Footy South Africa. Slowly a growing base of locals were given what they needed - opportunity. This gave the Australian Football League the confidence to invest more heavily as AFL South Africa was born. Importantly these funding sources resulted in programs that were able to leverage wider support, such as several mining companies subsequently contributing significant funds.

A classic example of community building through providing an environment of volunteering through to potential employment is the position of two long-serving South Africa Lions players who have been announced as new footyWILD Community Development Coordinators for Johannesburg and Mafikeng (North West Province).

The appointments of Steven ‘Maplanka’ Matshane and Steven ‘Papi’ Malinga reinforce the ‘Character First’ approach AFL South Africa has taken in bringing volunteers through the system to full-time work since 2007.

“We hire for character and train for skill”, said National Participation Manager July Machethe. “We are keen to reward effort and bring young South Africans through the system to take on more responsibility where opportunities exist,” said July, himself a staff member who has come through the ranks over the last 3 years. AFL South Africa's program emphasises a good working culture through five character traits - Accountability, Dependability, Determination, Enthusiasm and Initiative.

So besides feel-good community development and volunteer work, are football jobs real jobs? Absolutely. AFL South Africa's Operations Manager Anthony "Joel" Kelly explained to worldfootynews.com, “AFL South Africa now have 17 full time local staff of which more than half have graduated from volunteer ranks to employment with the organisation – AFLSA’s People & Culture program provides a training and development platform which has made this succession plan possible. AusAID provide support to the People & Culture program”.

And one final repudiation of the criticism - consider that despite the tremendous efforts by AFLPNG to develop juniors into genuine AFL prospects as well as focusing on healthy outcomes, the Australian Government recently committed $2 million to junior Rugby League in Papua New Guinea. There have also been very large sums given to other sports, such as tens of millions for soccer to campaign for the FIFA World Cup. Australian football is certainly not the favoured child of government at expense of other major sports.

Let's hope these worthy programs continue to be supported regardless of who wins Saturday's Australian Federal election.