November 5, 2011

Australia in South Africa 2011-12

Australian rules in South Africa

Brydon Coverdale
Phindile Kambule and July Machethe at AFL South Africa's office in Potchefstroom, November 5, 2011
Phindile Kambule and July Machethe at AFL South Africa's office in Potchefstroom  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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One of the most unexpected sights for the Australian visitor to Potchefstroom is the office of AFL South Africa. Australians are mad about their indigenous football code - at least, those who aren't from the rugby heartland states of New South Wales and Queensland. But few foreigners follow or even understand the sport. That's something the game's governing body wants to change, hence a presence in South Africa since 1997.

It was strange indeed to peer in the window of an office behind the grandstand at Senwes Park and see framed Fremantle and Essendon jumpers and a pile of oval balls. It is the off-season, but when the summer of cricket finishes, goal posts will be erected at either end of Senwes Park and the footy begins.

Leagues run in four of South Africa's provinces, with matches every weekend, culminating in regional, then provincial and finally national championships. Surprisingly, there are 11,500 players of Australian rules in the country.

Disadvantaged communities are the primary focus of the programme. Understandably, it can take kids some time to get the hang of a sport they've never seen before.

"Some of the kids mistake it for rugby," says Phindile Kambule, the events and marketing co-ordinator for AFL South Africa. "But in the long term they definitely know what's going on."

Some stick with it, like Bayanda Sobetwa, who stumbled on an AFL skills camp in the township of Khayelitsha when he was 17, and three years later found himself training in Australia with the AFL's newest team, Greater Western Sydney.

I met Phindile and her colleague July Machethe, the national participation manager, at Senwes Park, where Australia were playing South Africa A in a tour match. The Australian cricketers sometimes stop by at the office when they spot the familiar logo.

"We always bring them footballs to train with when they're here," says July.

For the time being, the office is quiet, but come winter Potchefstroom will be an Australian rules hub. And maybe the next Bayanda Sobetwa will be there, breaking tackles and taking high marks. Sobetwa didn't quite make it into the professional league, but he came close, and July believes a South African will crack the AFL soon.

"It should happen in the next five years," he says. "Bayanda didn't quite make it, but he was given a shot. I think in the next five years we will find the right player."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by ruckrover on (November 13, 2011, 4:33 GMT)

There's a lot of grassroots growth of Australia's indigenous game in over 30 countries. Most of it flies under the radar of the regular media. Worldfootynews.com has a lot of stories on it. It is only in the last 5 years or so that the AFL has started to take a real interest in promoting the code, previously it was the work of Aussie expats and local converts - and it still mainly is. South Africa makes sense with all the cricket ovals - and indeed Aussie Rules and Cricket can work well together for the betterment of both codes facilities.

Posted by Simon on (November 12, 2011, 6:01 GMT)

AFHell. That's because you don't understand what you're looking at. No doubt you find 90 minutes of passing sideways and backwards in Soccer far more interesting.

Posted by Daniel on (November 10, 2011, 5:28 GMT)

I see GWS are going to follow the English route to the top.

Posted by Greg on (November 9, 2011, 12:41 GMT)

Great to see South Africa getting a taste of the greatest all round sport on Earth. Funny to see someone say it has no flow. It's so much faster and free flowing than either Rugby or soccer. It's just a matter of what people are used to.

Posted by AFHell on (November 9, 2011, 0:24 GMT)

Ugliest sport i have seen in the world, no flow just seems everything is rushed.

Posted by redneck on (November 7, 2011, 3:28 GMT)

that would be right, not only will GWS have more victorians, south aussie and west aussies in their team than local new south welshman they'll prob have more south africans too!!!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brydon Coverdale
Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

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