Australian Football League plans to expand into India

August 19th, 2008 - 6:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne, Aug 19 (IANS) The overwhelming success of the Indian Premier League has made the Australian Football League (AFL) turn to India for all the right reasons. For the first time ever an Indian football team has been invited to participate in the AFL International Cup, which kicks off in Melbourne Aug 27, featuring 18 international teams, including teams from the United States, Britain and Japan.

Essendon Football Club has aligned itself to the Indian team. “We see it as a great opportunity to introduce Australian Rules Football to India. We are hosting the Indian team at our home ground in suburban Essendon. They will watch our senior team train and then train themselves,” Essendon Football Clubs’ 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 by getting involved and connected with this very Australian cultural activity,” Anderson said.

Essendon Football Clubs, 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 Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in early 2009.

“Presently the AFL and Austrade (Australian Trade Commission) are partnering to deliver exhibition games in India in late January - early February 2009. We are planning to have the game played between two AFL clubs before an attending crowd of approximately 10,000 people and to be televised both in Australia, and in India,” said Austrade’s Peter-Linford, who was based in Melbourne until late July when he was relocated to New Delhi.

“We will link Australian and Indian businesses to deliver the match and to provide profiling sponsorship opportunities for mutual benefit. It is our expectation the game will directly support 30+ companies through the game itself, and building the event over a five year plan will take this further,” Linford said.

Along with Essendon, Richmond and North Melbourne football clubs have been lobbying hard to be involved in the first games to be played in India.

“No decision has been made about the teams yet, but we are very keen to go and be one of the clubs involved in the first AFL match played over there. It’s a great opportunity. There are growing cultural and population ties between India and Australia,” Richmond football club president Gary March told The Age newspaper.

Given the fact that the Australian Rules Football was invented by cricketers and the Australian cricket community is passionate about the sport, the AFL wants to capitalise on the profile of Ricky Ponting, who is an ardent North Melbourne fan, to assist its push into India.

The largest AFL game of the year is held on Anzac Day holiday (April 25) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, drawing a crowd of 100,000.

A family oriented fast game, with women comprising 45 percent of its supporter base, Australian Rules Football should go down well in India.

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