Australia eyes business links with India through rugby

August 27th, 2008 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 27 (IANS) Sports is what Australia excels in, and it is to sports that the government is now turning to deepen business links with India.For the first time ever, an Indian team trained in Austalian football - a type of rugby - is in Melbourne to participate in the AFL International Cup, which kicked off Wednesday.

Organised by the Australian Football League (AFL), the tournament features 15 international teams, including squads from the US, the UK and Japan, apart from India.

“The International Cup is an excellent platform to build sport and business links with India,” minister for trade Simon Crean said while welcoming the international teams to Australia.

“I would like to congratulate the AFL for this initiative. The government will continue to work with them to assist in promoting our great game overseas.”

AFL general manager for national and international development David Matthews said he was delighted an Indian team was competing in the International Cup.

“AFL India was formed 18 months ago in Kolkata. This is a great opportunity for Australian football to become a sporting option for Indian boys and girls. We look forward to the game’s growth in the years ahead,” Matthews said.

Balraj Singh, former AFL Crows player and mentor to the Indian team, said he was excited to be sharing his passion for Australian football with Indians.

“I have been working with the Indian team to hone their skills on the football field. The side shows great promise and as the sport gains popularity in India, more people will want to be involved and this will lift the standard of play,” Singh said.

The Indian team, which played Samoa in its first game Wednesday, will train with the Essendon Football Club Thursday and play against New Zealand Friday.

“We see it as a great opportunity to introduce Australian Rules Football to India,” Essendon’s chief commercial officer Mark Anderson told IANS.

“Indians are now the number one immigrants into the state of Victoria and Indian overseas students are the second largest cohort of international students in the state. We are encouraging students and immigrants to play AFL as it will help them integrate with the community,” Anderson said.

Essendon, one of the largest clubs in Australia with a membership base of 42,000 and over one million people attending their games in a season, are working with the AFL with a view to playing an Australian rules football match in India early next year.

The AFL has grand plans for expanding its presence into India with two exhibition matches to be played at the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground in New Delhi and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in early 2009.

“Presently, the AFL and Austrade (Australian Trade Commission) are partnering to deliver exhibition games in India,” Austrade’s senior trade commissioner for South Asia Peter Linford, told IANS.

“We are planning to have the game played between two AFL clubs before an attending crowd of approximately 10,000 people and have the match televised both in Australia and in India.”

Linford said Australian and Indian businesses will be linked to deliver the match and provide sponsorship opportunities for mutual benefit.

“It is our expectation the event will directly support over 30 companies. We will build it over five years and take it further,” he said.

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