The thread title here will have to be changed - its no longer 20,000, its 30,000! -
AFL chiefs look to South Africa
Stephen Rielly The Age
July 4, 2007
South African children enjoy an AFL football clinic during the AFL Indigenous Youth Tour of South Africa, February 2006.
NOTWITHSTANDING the relative success of the Irish experiment and the remarkable individual stories of Dublin's Jim Stynes, Kerry's Tadhg Kennelly and, of late, the new sensation, County Down's Martin Clarke, South Africa has become the AFL's preferred international recruiting field of the future.
This much was confirmed last week when a partnership with a South African company controlled by Geelong president Frank Costa was announced in the Johannesburg town of Alexandra. The partnership, between AFL South Africa and Costa Logistics, will underpin the immediate roll-out of an AusKick-like development program, FootyWild, across four provinces. The AFL hopes it will produce 30,000 participants between the ages of eight and 18 by the end of 2009. If that figure is reached, South Africa will have a player base similar to that of Tasmania.
The AFL's game development manager, David Matthews, said yesterday that being able to introduce Australian football to a foreign country without compromises or modifications — combined with South Africa's enthusiasm to bring about social change through sport — made the export a development priority for the league. "It's now clearly our priority international market. We're going to South Africa unashamedly. With an Australian football, an oval ball, in our hands and grounds, because of cricket, that are comparable to our own
," Matthews said.
Which is why, next summer, Carlton, Collingwood and Fremantle are expected to conduct pre-season camps in South Africa and two of those sides will play a pre-season cup match there. "We're finalising plans for that game now," Matthews said. The AFL has committed $400,000 a year for three years to AFL South Africa, with four AFL clubs (Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle and West Coast) expected to pay $40,000 each for exclusive development rights in a province. With partnership funds from the likes of Costa's firm, Tattersalls and the South African Government, the overall development budget is close to $1 million a year.
The funds will employ as many as 10 development officers this year, who will be expected to take FootyWild to at least 80 schools and start to establish talent identification programs at under-13, under-16 and open-age level and an elite AFL South Africa Academy for potential draftees.
The AFL has sought to make South Africa more attractive as a potential source of AFL players by introducing an international scholarship scheme that creates a place for a South African draftee on club lists and allows them to be signed as early as 15. Irish players, by contrast, cannot be signed until they are 18. "What Collingwood has been able to achieve with Martin Clarke,
they could achieve again and more in South Africa because the players can be signed earlier," Matthews said.