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Geography of Australian rules football

Map of the world indicating the nations where Australian Rules football was most played in 2009. The stronger regions are indicated in shades of red, areas in which it was most played, areas where the game was unknown or least played are indicated in grey. The game's traditional home, Australia, is highlighted in blue.

Australian Football is a sport played in many countries around the world. In 2006, about 16,000 people played in structured competitions outside of Australia and at least 20 leagues that are recognised by the game's governing body, exist outside Australia.[1] This figure had grown to a total of 34,845 players by the end of 2007 and over 100,000 participants.[2] In contrast, there are over 800,000 players in Australia where the game is at its strongest; overseas players make up less than 2% of the total players worldwide.

Australian football is played professionally only by men in Australia and is a major spectator sport in Australia and Nauru.


  • Players of Australian rules football 1
  • History of Australian rules outside Australia 2
    • Early beginnings 2.1
    • The First World Governing Body and international competition 2.2
    • Decline and hiatus 2.3
    • Return of Oceania football 2.4
    • 1980s and '90s 2.5
    • Game spreads 2.6
    • Formation of a world governing body 2.7
    • 21st century 2.8
  • International competition 3
    • World rankings 3.1
    • International rules Australia vs Ireland 3.2
  • International promotion, funding & governance 4
    • High profile advocates 4.1
  • Women's competitions 5
  • Junior competitions 6
  • Specific development projects 7
    • South African AusAID project 7.1
      • Aussie Rules Schools (England) 7.1.1
      • China AusAID project 7.1.2
      • Pacific AusAID projects 7.1.3
  • International drafts and converts 8
    • International players 8.1
    • Converts 8.2
      • Gaelic converts to Australian football 8.2.1
      • Australian football converts to American football (Gridiron) 8.2.2
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Players of Australian rules football

There have been several players in the VFL/AFL who were born outside Australia and since 1982, an increasing number of players have been recruited from outside Australia through initiatives such as the Irish experiment and more recently, international scholarship programs. Despite the amateur competitions outside of Australia, no player from these competitions has yet debuted in the AFL Premiership Season. Some have, however, featured in semi-professional competitions in Australia as well as in AFL pre-season practice matches.

The international growth of Australian rules in the 19th century and early 20th century was rapid, but it went into rapid decline following World War I. After World War II, the sport experienced a small amount of growth in the Pacific region, particularly in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

Australian Football emerged as an international sport much later than other forms of football, such as soccer or rugby, but has grown substantially as an amateur sport in some countries since the 1980s. Initially, the sport grew with the Australian diaspora, aided by multiculturalism and assisted by exhibition matches and players who have converted to and from other football codes. In Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, there are many thousands of players. Canada, Japan, Denmark, and Sweden have also shown strong potential in the sport in the lead up to the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.

The AFL became the de facto international governing body for the sport when created the AFL International Development Committee and the IAFC was dissolved between 2002 and 2006.

Australian Football is played professionally by men, in Australia, and is the dominant spectator sport, with the exception of exhibition games staged in other countries.

The game is played in many countries, the Australian Football League and has more than 13 affiliated international governing bodies, AFL Canada, Danish Australian Football League, BARFL, AFL Japan, ARFLI, Nauru Australian Football Association, New Zealand AFL, USAFL, AFL South Africa, AFL PNG, AFL Samoa, Tonga Australian Football Association and AFL Germany. The league also has working relationships with bodies in additional countries, who have sent, or may in future send, teams to the International Cup. In 2010, a European association of 18 Countries was founded which later re-branded as AFL Europe. This association is affiliated to the Australian Football League, which funds the retention of a regional manager in Europe.

History of Australian rules outside Australia

Early beginnings

Almost as soon as the game was becoming established in Australia, it had spread to New Zealand and South Africa, initially because of the Otago Gold Rush and Witwatersrand Gold Rush. The game was further fuelled in South Africa by Australian soldiers in the First and Second Boer Wars.

There were reports of early competitions in England, Scotland, and Japan, started by expatriate Australians and servicemen.

The First World Governing Body and international competition

In New Zealand, where proximity to Australia saw a formidable league, the sport quickly grew to a sizeable 115 clubs by the turn of the 20th century. As the game spread, it became known as Australasian Football, with delegates from New Zealand added to the newly formed Australasian Football Council.

In 1908, New Zealand defeated both New South Wales and Queensland at the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival, an event held to celebrate 50 years of Australian Football.

Decline and hiatus

World War I saw the game being played by Australian servicemen around the world, particularly in Egypt, and in Europe in France, Belgium, and England.

Following the war, the game went into a sharp decline outside of Australia, with all international domestic competitions dying out. National teams and international competition in the sport became non-existent for three quarters of the 20th century. The return of many Australian expatriates from overseas gold fields and tours of duty, combined with Australia's low profile on the world stage, offered few opportunities for the game to grow during this time. With the withdrawal of its New Zealand delegates, the sport returned to the title of Australian Football, governed by the Australian Football Council. Concerned primarily with the growth of their own domestic competitions, the Australian leagues and governing bodies made little effort to develop or promote the game until the 1950s, and the council's role was mainly to oversee the growing importance of interstate test matches.

Nevertheless, the longest running fixture outside of Australia, the annual Varsity match between Oxford University Australian Rules Football Club and Cambridge University in England, has been held since 1921, and has emerged into a fierce rivalry, worthy of half-blue status at Oxford.[3] Apart from this match, however the game was rarely played in England.

Return of Oceania football

Action from an Aussie Rules game in Nauru at the Linkbelt Oval

Australian Football has been continuously played in the former Australian trustee mandate of Nauru, which began both senior and junior local competitions in the 1930s. Australian Football was also introduced to the Territory of New Guinea in 1944 and the Territory of Papua in 1948.

World War II saw some servicemen play the game overseas, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, and Algeria. During the Vietnam War, matches were even played by servicemen against the local Vietnamese.

In the 1960s, Australian leagues began to show some interest in expansion of the game outside of Australia. 1963 saw the first Australian rules football exhibition matches played in the United States. Australian state leagues began occasionally promoting themselves in this way over the following decades.

In 1967, it was reported in the VFL Record's "Footy Facts" column that Australian football clubs existed in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town and that the VFL was optimistic about the future of the game in South Africa.[4] Little is known of how or when these clubs had formed or what later became of them.

Since 1967, there have been many matches between Australian and Irish teams, under various sets of hybrid, compromise rules. In 1984, the first official representative matches of International rules football were played, and these games have continued to be played annually each October, now attracting considerable public interest, drawing sizable crowds, and receiving regular television coverage. New Zealand resumed a local competition in 1974.

By 1975, Papua New Guinea had gained independence and test matches began to be played against teams from Australia. The first ever full international match involving Australia was played in 1977 at under 17 level between Australia and Papua New Guinea in Adelaide, with Australia taking the honours.[5] Since then, Australia have been peerless in the sport and seldom compete at international level.

Despite these advancements and others to the international aspects of the game, progress overseas is rarely covered in the Australian media.

1980s and '90s

In the late 1980s, successful VFL exhibition matches attracted large crowds and spawned fledgling local competitions in both Japan and Canada. The Australian media showed only a token interest in the matches in London and Japan involving VFL clubs. It was during this decade that the sport was first televised in North America and the United Kingdom.

Some nationalities respond well to less formal means, however, and many trends in sporting activities are achieved outside formally organized programs. For instance, although Australian football was not formally established in Tonga until 2003 however informal matches had been introduced to schools as early as 1985.

Game spreads

The largest barriers to growth of Australian Football internationally have traditionally been distance, field availability, and player numbers. With a total of 36 players normally required for a game, and a cricket sized oval, organising games can be difficult in countries where space is a premium and devotees are spread widely. While these factors have not been a problem in Papua New Guinea or New Zealand, they did pose large problems to leagues in Europe, Asia, and America. This disadvantage has been turned into an advantage with some organisers accepting modified versions of the game, such as nine-a-side, requiring fewer players and less space.

In the late 1980s, as organisers adapted, amateur leagues were established in Japan (1987), England, Denmark, and Canada (1989). In the case of Japan and Canada, these were directly sparked by VFL exhibition matches.

In the 1990s, the Australian diaspora had spread and amateur competition had grown in countries such as Sweden (1993), Germany (1995), the USA (1996), Argentina, Spain, Samoa (1997), and South Africa (1998), as well as a number of mainly expatriate teams, mainly based in South East Asia.

During this time, the VFL expanded to become the AFL and began to command a greater national and international audience. Word of the sport grew out of AFL exhibition matches, cult television followings, and Internet communication. AFANA, specifically to work for improved media coverage of Australian Football.

The traditionalists in the governing bodies of Australia (which became the AFL) were reluctant to sanction any games which were not played exactly according to the Laws of the Game, and the AFL initially did not recognise leagues that played the game on fields that did not closely match the proper dimensions, or had less than 16 players per side. Since the 1990s, these attitudes have changed somewhat, and the AFL and other development bodies have directly contributed to the development of the game overseas.

Formation of a world governing body

The International Australian Football Council (IAFC) was formed after football first featured at the Arafura Games in 1995. Since 1998, the Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, endorsed by the AFL as part of its International Policy, has hosted several junior teams from other countries.

Since 2000, fledgling competitions have been established in countries such as Ireland (2000), Tonga (2002), Scotland, France, and China (2005). Television and the internet have since helped to increase the awareness of the game outside of Australia.

Inspired by successful Arafura Games competitions, the inaugural Australian Football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2002, an initiative of the IAFC and the AFL. The first International Cup also marked the beginnings of a very small media interest in the international aspects of the game in Australia.

At the 2002 International Cup, meetings held between the AFL, IAFC, and international teams saw a unanimous vote amongst member countries that the AFL become the de facto world governing body for the sport, with the leagues linked to the teams affiliating with the AFL. The IAFC's public relations officer, Brian Clarke, disputed this move and continued the organisation in name. This organisation was finally dissolved in 2005, dropping all public claims to being the world governing body for the sport and being replaced by the development organisation Aussie Rules International.

21st century

In recent years, the game has grown particularly strongly in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. In percentage terms, their increases are high in comparison to the growth of the sport in Australia, and their total player numbers are at least 100,000, making senior competition involving Australia at open level unlikely for some time.

In 2004, a volunteer group known as World Footy News[6] began documenting the growth of Australian football internationally through their website, becoming a major source of international football news, and for the first time providing a source of detailed coverage for the International Cups (2005 and 2008). Its website states that it "was created to foster awareness of Australian Football around the globe and to aid communication between clubs, leagues and individuals playing and supporting Aussie Rules". At various times between 2004 and 2007, other regularly updated sources included OziRulzGlobal, Fourth Quarter, and with slowly improving quantity, an International Leagues section of the AFL website.[7]

In 2005, after eight years of growing domestic competition, the South African government declared Australian Football to be the sport for "the new South Africa", injecting government funding into the sport.[8]

In 2006, Pakistan, Indonesia, Catalonia, Croatia, Norway, Bermuda and East Timor joined the list of playing nations.

On 3 July 2006, the AFL announced that it had formed an International Development Committee to support overseas leagues. The AFL hopes to develop the game in other countries to the point where Australian football is played at an international level by top-quality sides from around the world. The AFL plans to host the International Cup regularly every three or four years, beginning in 2008, the 150th anniversary of the code.[9] Following the AFL's interest in the internationalisation of the game, coverage in the Australian media grew substantially.

On 14 April 2007, the Australian Institute of Sport Under 17 squad competed against the South African national Australian rules football team in the first international match between the two countries at North West Cricket Stadium in Potchefstroom, South Africa.[10] The Australians won by a score of 162-12. In the same month, a massive junior program called "FootyWILD", similar to Auskick, was launched in the country.

On 25 April 2013, the first premiership match outside of Australia was held at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, between the Sydney Swans and the St Kilda Saints, and attracted a crowd of over 22,000 spectators.[11]

International competition

The first truly international competitor in Australian Football was New Zealand. In 1908, the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australian rules football. New Zealand (then representing a total of 115 clubs) defeated both New South Wales and Queensland in the carnival, but lost to Victoria and Tasmania.

The 1995 Arafura Games, held in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia became the first international sporting event to have Australian football as a competition sport, rather than a demonstration sport. Papua New Guinea won the gold medal and retained it in subsequent games. Other teams that have competed at Australian Rules in the games include Japan, Nauru, and a Northern Territory indigenous team. The International Australian football Council (IAFC) was formed after the 1995 Games.[12]

Inspired by successful Arafura Games competitions, the inaugural Australian Football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2002, as the last act of the IAFC, and held in conjunction with the AFL. The 2002 cup was contested by eleven teams from around the world, made up exclusively of non-Australians.[12] Ireland won, defeating Papua New Guinea in the final.

In the interim years, Japan and New Zealand played an annual game as a curtain raiser to the AFL games. The New Zealand national team were victorious by 100 points in 2003, and so, in 2004, a club side from Auckland played the game, which Japan lost by two points. The amateur Australian Convicts also toured, playing several matches against sides from developing nations.

The second Australian Football International Cup was held in Melbourne in 2005, again under the guidance and funding of the AFL, with New Zealand defeating Papua New Guinea in the final. Third place went to the United States of America.

In 2001 The United States, Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland competed in the Atalantic Alliance Cup. This was fore runner to other European competitions starting with the EU Cup which became the Euro Cup and also the Central European Australian Football league Championships .

In 2006, Denmark, Sweden and Germany competed in a tri-nations series, which was planned to be repeated annually.

The third Australian Football International Cup was held in 2008 by the AFL in Melbourne, with a record 16 teams competing. Papua New Guinea won their first title, defeating New Zealand, and South Africa controversially defeated Ireland by 1 point to finish third.[13]

The fourth Australian Football International Cup was held in 2011 by the AFL in Melbourne and Sydney, with a record 18 teams competing. Ireland won their second title by defeating Papua New Guinea who have appeared in every AFL International Cup grand final.

Other international competitions that included some Australian expatriates are also held, including the EU Cup, which was first held in 2005 in London, featuring ten teams. In 2007 the Cup was held in Hamburg, with twelve teams.

In 2013 the East Asia Australian Football League was formed with Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Jakarta and Laos competing. Also the South China Australian Football League consists of three teams from Hong Kong, Macau, Landau and Gangzhou.

World rankings

Although the AFL is regarded as the world governing body, it does not publish statistics for matches that it does not specifically sanction. By 2009, the only attempt to consolidate all World Rankings was created by the World Footy News website, which for 2008 listed 22 countries, from Australia (1st) through to India (22nd). Detailed criteria were given as to whether a country qualified for consideration, though ultimately the rankings were listed as unofficial, and are only noteworthy because of the lack of any other system. The unofficial 2008 Australian Football World Rankings.

International rules Australia vs Ireland

A series of hybrid International rules matches between the Australian Football League's best professional players and a representative Gaelic football team from Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association amateur players is staged annually. The rules are a compromise between the two codes, using a round ball and a rectangular field. The fierce tackling of the Australian code is allowed, although this has caused controversy with the Irish players. The series have remained evenly matched with the Irish using speed and athleticism, and the Australians strength and power — both inherent skills in their respective codes.

International promotion, funding & governance

The International Australian football Council (IAFC) was formed in 1995 by a subset of playing countries to promote and develop Australian football internationally, before unanimously dissolving in favour of the AFL in 2002.

Australian football is not yet considered large enough internationally for a FIFA style governing body, so the Australian Football League is primarily responsible for funding and governance. In the mid-2000s, it provided around $30 million for development of the game in Australia and around A$500,000 annually for international development, with the following breakdown in 2005:

  • New Zealand $150,000
  • South Africa $100,000
  • United States of America $90,000
  • Papua New Guinea $45,000
  • Other $115,000[14]

Including AFL exhibition and NAB Cup matches, indigenous and AIS youth tours, International Cup funding and staff funding, this will have risen to around A$2,000,000 annually by 2008. Additional support for countries such as South Africa is leveraged through contacts with industry, and is increasingly adding to the total investment.

Much of the additional international promotion of the game is fuelled by exhibition matches, expatriate Australians, local leagues, and various AusAID projects. The internet is seen as a key tool in keeping diverse Australian football communities in contact.

High profile advocates

Although international football has a low profile within Australia, the issue is getting increased media exposure as several high profile Australians have become advocates for international football. Former players and coaches that are involved in, have expressed interest in or are passionate about international footy at some stage include Ron Barassi, Kevin Sheedy, Jim Stynes, Paul Roos, Robert DiPierdomenico, Michael Long, Garry Lyon, Peter Schwab, Guy McKenna, Glenn Archer, Jason McCartney, Wayne Schwass, and Mal Michael. Current players who have expressed views or interest on the topic include David Rodan, Alipate Carlile, Jimmy Bartel, Jason Akermanis, Aaron Edwards, and Brad Moran. Former AFL players Mark Zanotti and John Ironmonger have been directly involved in living and establishing clubs overseas. Other non-players such as John So, Eddie McGuire, and Tiffany Cherry have also expressed interest in the media about the game being played or watched overseas.

Women's competitions

Women's Australian rules football

Several countries now have Women's Australian rules football programs in place. These countries include Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, England, South Africa, Argentina, and Japan. There is no official ranking system in place, and as of the end of 2008, the only internationals played were the USA's dual defeats of Canada.

Junior competitions

Several countries now have youth Australian rules programs in place. These countries include Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Nauru, Denmark, South Africa, England, Indonesia, the USA, and Canada.

Since 1998, the Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, endorsed by the Australian Football League as part of its International Policy, has hosted several of these nation's representative youth teams.

The first fully representative junior international outside of Australia was played between England and Denmark in Farum, Denmark, in October 2005.[15] The Jakarta Bulldogs Australian Football Club,[16] founded in 2006 by Alf Eddy, was an Australian Football Club made up of Under 18-year-old expatriate and local students in Jakarta. The team played against local teams such as the Pancawati Eagles, Depok Garudas, and the Jakarta Bintangs, and also travelled to Singapore and Malaysia in 2008 and 2009, respectively, for the Asian Australian Football Championships. The Bulldogs won the competition in both years.

Specific development projects

South African AusAID project

An Tattersalls as well as the South African North West Academy of Sport.

Aussie Rules Schools (England)

Another funded junior project is Aussie Rules Schools UK, which is funded by Sport England and co-ordinated by AFL England and AFL Europe. This project has seen up to ten English schools adopt Aussie Rules as part of the school curriculum to combat obesity.

China AusAID project

In February 2006, a joint project between the AFL, Melbourne Football Club, Melbourne City Council, and AusAID to post an Australian Youth Ambassador in Tianjin, a city of 10 million, about 120 kilometres (75 mi) southeast of Beijing in an effort to kickstart Australian Football in China was announced.[17]

Pacific AusAID projects

There have been full-time development officers in Tonga and Samoa, as part of AusAid projects, since 2005.

International drafts and converts

International players

Michito Sakaki from Japan became the first international player to play at AFL level when selected to play for the Essendon Football Club against the Sydney Swans at an exhibition match at North Sydney Oval in February 2006. Mike Pyke, a former Canadian rugby player, was drafted to the Sydney Swans in 2009, and played his first game in Round 7 of 2009 against Geelong, becoming the first non-Irish international player to play an official league game.


Gaelic converts to Australian football

Australia has recruited several Irish Gaelic footballers to play Aussie Rules. As Gaelic football is primarily an amateur competition and the AFL competition is professional, there is a strong financial lure. In the 1980s, the Melbourne Football Club recruited Jim Stynes, who would turn out to be the most successful Irish player in the history of the VFL/AFL, winning the Brownlow medal. At around the same time, the club recruited the Scot Sean Wight. In more recent years, the Sydney Swans recruited Irishman Tadhg Kennelly, who played in a premiership with the club and has also represented Ireland against Australia. Carlton Football Club experimented with brothers Setanta Ó hAilpín and Aisake Ó hAilpín. The Collingwood Football Club has recruited Martin Clarke, and the Brisbane Lions recruited Colm Begley and Brendan Quigley to their international rookie list. Due to increasing concern from the Gaelic Athletic Association, in 2006 the AFL made a deal with the GAA to limit the number of junior Gaelic drafts.

Australian football converts to American football (Gridiron)

Australia has exported players to the NFL. Since the 1980s, many AFL players have tried out as American football punters. The special teams position requires the long range kicking skills often used by Australian football players, particularly those playing centre half-forward and full-forward. Although the punter position is one of the least valuable on an NFL team, punters and kickers have an average salary of around US$860,000[18] which surpasses the wages of AFL players, who average A$221,000.[19] As the position is less physically demanding, it has also become attractive for players heading into retirement.

See also

List of Australian Football Leagues outside Australia


  1. ^ AFL International Development
  2. ^ AFL International Census 2007
  3. ^ Triumphant Oxford are rucking great from
  4. ^ AFL Record. Round 6, 2007
  5. ^ "1977-1980". Full Points Footy. Retrieved 2006-07-14. 
  6. ^ World Footy News
  7. ^ AFL website
  8. ^ South Africa embraces Australian Rules football
  9. ^ "AFL International Development plans". World Footy News. Retrieved 2006-07-14. 
  10. ^ Aussie talent all class on African footy's big day from
  11. ^ Fairfax NZ News - AFL boys put on show for new Wellington fans
  12. ^ a b Hanlon, Peter (11 August 2002). "World Game Steps Up To The Mark". The Sunday Age. 
  13. ^ Controversial finish as South Africa defeat Ireland after the siren
  14. ^ Union in Aussie rules by Caroline Wilson from the Age 14 August 2005
  15. ^ "AFL Roller Coaster Ride for Danes on the International Front". World Footy News. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Melbourne's China experiment a reality by Brett Northey for World Footy News. 18 May 2006
  18. ^ NFL's Average Salaries By Position: Punter/Kicker $868,005, Sports Illustrated
  19. ^ Average player salary tops $221,000,, 19 March 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2011.

External links

News and Results Sites

  • The Footy Record - Results from around the globe
  • World Footy News - Independent reporting of international Australian rules football

Fan sites

  • BigFooty - International Footy Forum of the Largest unofficial Aussie Rules fan community site and forum
  • AFLClubs - Social community bringing fans from around the world together.

Governing bodies

  • AFL International Development
  • AFL Europe

International tournaments

  • Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament
  • Australian Football International Cups 2002, 2005, 2008

International leagues

  • U.S. Australian rules football League
  • Women's footy USA
  • DAFL - The Danish Australian Football League
  • AFLG - The Australian Football League Germany
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