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Pakistan Rich For Australian Football Expansion

  • Friday, October 11 2019 @ 09:55 pm ACDT
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Michael Gallus was asked if there was one word that could describe his recent trip to the footballing heartlands of Pakistan. He answered, “simply extraordinary!” Sadly, for Michael, that’s two words, so he doesn’t win that lovely lounge suite. However, he did win the hearts of Pakistan communities across the country, and he won many converts to our great game.

Michael has just returned from a monumental promotion of Australian football on behalf of the AFL. As previously reported by World Footy News (see Operation: Pakistan), Michael accepted the invitation from AFL Pakistan and gained assistance from Simon Highfield, the Development Manager for AFL Asia, to tour the nation and work with local people to identify ways that game could be further developed.
In a mammoth undertaking, Michael’s journey took him to nine cities in nine days, travelling over 3500 kilometres – 2000 of those by road. “In order, I started at Karachi to Rahim Yar Khan and then to Laiquatpar. From there we went to Multan then Lahore, Gujranwala, Gujrat and Islamabad then back to Karachi to run AFL clinics in each city and town with 20-100 female and male Pakistani athletes and AFL footballers participating for over 500 in total.”

Before even discussing football, Michael’s journey presented him with a cultural and sensory shock – but the best kind. “The overwhelming Pakistan hospitality and friendliness was everywhere I went. I was treated as a real celebrity. I now know what Brad Pitt and David Beckham feel like. I was the centre of National and International print and TV Press Conferences.”

“There were cheering crowds, presents, awards, rose petals thrown on me, absolutely extraordinary food, crazy traffic, and a mass of humanity-220 million people in a country 10 times smaller than Australia. The whole of Australia’s 25 million people would fit in the one city of Karachi.”

Michael left Australia with a clear itinerary and set of expectations. However, even that couldn’t prepare Michael for some of the surprises involved within his list of activities. Among the range of experiences that left an indelible impression were, “volunteering with Pakistani Goodwill UN ambassador Muniba Mazari's homeless children street and children program. Eating rice on the street and engaging with the kids, learning Urdu words whilst discussing where I was from in Australia and the great game of AFL.”

“An amazing fact was when I brought the ball out they knew it was a Footy! “Look! Footy Ball”, they cried. “Kick it to me, kick it to me!” everyone yelled in downtown Islamabad. Seriously, who would have thought that homeless Pakistani street kids knew about our great game and wanted to play it? Truly extraordinary. We gestured, translated and spoke happily to each other to split into two groups to play kick to kick. Laughter, enjoyment, fun and screams of delight as we booted the ball from one end of the dusty, rocky car park to the other in downtown Islamabad. It was so exciting to see a huge swarm of Pakistani kids chasing the footy ball around just like we see kids in Australia doing every weekend at local footy clubs and during the week at schools.”

Michael’s sojourn continued to transcend football. “ [I was] volunteering with Pakistani film star Massart Misbah at the Deplix Smile Again Foundation with women who were victims of domestic violence acid burn abuse. I witnessed the worst male humanity can do to female humanity with horrific acid burn injuries of no eyes or hair, badly deformed limbs, extensive painful scarring, melted faces and worst of all death of their children. In this physical and mental world of female pain and torture I met with the strongest and most courageous and resilient women in the world who also wanted to know more about the game of Australian football.”

“Once I pulled out the Footy, straight away they asked can you teach us to play. Just like the street kids and just like every other Pakistani I met. We went downstairs to a courtyard and taught the ladies to hand ball, mark and kick, Their smiles, laughter and joy about playing Australian Rules was simply extraordinary and gave them a brief respite from their 24/7 challenges they face every day.”

“The power of one Australian Footys4all ball. Brought with love and friendship from our Australian country far, far away to say “yes, we feel your pain and suffering and we are here to say don’t give up hope”. “Keep going as we are here to support you all through the power of sport”, just as quoted by inspirational world leader Nelson Mandela who said sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.

The key purpose of the journey was to look at Australian footy firsthand and identify where the game is now in Pakistan and where it can go – and how. What Michael saw was “an extraordinary passion and hunger for more knowledge and expert training about AFL”.

“I also saw an extraordinary determination and passion by visionary AFL Pakistan President Sardar Tariq, AFL Pakistan General Secretary Chaudry Zulfiqar Ali, AFL Pakistan CEO Jamil Kamran and passionate Pakistan AFL coaches and administrators across the country teaching and growing the game. The had an outstanding knowledge of ground set up and organisation, with lines marked and games run by umpires and time keepers.”

“There are eight national men’s teams across the country. There is also huge interest from Pakistani women with over 250 participants in the nine clinics I ran across the nine cities. In Gjuranwala, there were 200 female university women watching and cheering the clinic from the grand stand. Many of the women athletes in the clinics were elite sportswomen representing their country in soccer, hockey and rugby.”

Whilst in Pakistan, Michael was able to pinpoint certain strengths and weaknesses. “There is huge untapped potential for AFL talent in a country full of 220 million people with a real passion for sport, especially AFL. Strengths include the passion, player and spectator interest, AFL Pakistan structure and administrators and volunteers, AFL Pakistan coaches, football grounds, and huge TV and print media support.”

“Some of the more immediate challenges facing development include expert technical coaching of skills and rules needed, the development of junior programs in schools and at clubs as well as more balls and equipment being needed.”

“My overall impression as the only western tourist in Pakistan, and the first white man and first Australian, many Pakistani people had met in the rural areas was of an amazing country full of friendly and hospitable people who have a love and passion for sport just like we do.”

“There is a genuinely huge hunger about AFL at the grassroots level, unlike what is happening in China, where the locals don’t have a passion for sport and have no idea or interest in AFL. I have journeyed around China as well. I saw a greater passion, finances, interest and enjoyment from across the whole country of Pakistan for AFL and I know if an AFL game was played in Pakistan there would be 50,000 enthusiastic and interested locals attending.”

“As the Pakistan Female National AFL Coach the natural talent, resilience, determination and strength of the female athletes I trialled and worked with was absolutely phenomenal. I have no doubt with specialised coaching that Pakistani Women could become the best players in each of the AFLW teams and I look forward to working with AFL Pakistan throughout the future to make this dream a reality.”

“Many thanks to AFL Pakistan, Footys4all and Dr Syed Ariz from The Shaheens for all working together to sponsor and organise this world first, life changing trip to Pakistan to coach Australian football.”

It is hoped that the leanings and observations gained from this amazing journey are shared and promoted at the highest levels of the AFL to bring about change sooner rather than later.