CHENNAI: The Ashes may have been the hot topic of discussion in the first half of September, but the second half of the month gave way to something that’s a lot bigger than even cricket in Australia. A fortnight later,Richmond had defeated Great Western Sydney in the 2019 Australian Football League Grand Final in a clash that lived up to its name, with an attendance of 100,014, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
As the giant crowd attests, Australian Rules Football is a huge deal in the country. So huge, that the Grand Final is among the most-attended club championship events in the world. It wasn’t surprising to see the Australian Consulate-General push for promoting the sport in India on the very day the clash occurred. They announced a partnership with Australian Rules Football Association of India (ARFAI), a programme that intends to bring 1,500 youngsters from Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under its ambit. Four new state teams were added to the seven who currently play under ARFAI’s aegis.
“Aussie Rules Football is a sport that has the potential to spread to many youngsters in this city. Many of the players who come up through these teams have gone on to play at the AFL International Cup (a World Cup that is held once in three years) in Australia. The idea is to show these youngsters how this game can be both an avenue of entertainment as well as a way to keep fit,” said Sudhasil Mitra, an ARFAI representative. The game first made its way to India when Ricky Ponting was picked up by the Kolkata Knight Riders during the first edition of IPL in 2008. A proponent of Aussie Rules Football, the then-Australia skipper was made the face of the game, in turn sparking a good bit of word-of-mouth in the City of Joy.
“I was a kid when I saw Ponting promote the game, and I decided to try it out. I took an instant liking to it, and now I’m one among the people who runs the federation for it,” said Mitra. “We’ve been doing whatever we can to promote the game across India, from tying up with NGOs like Magic Bus to get more traction and organising matches in the districts, to taking a team to the International Cup with whatever funds we can arrange for. Hopefully, this partnership will help us find more talent for the next cup, which will happen next year.”