Plans to bring the sport to Zimbabwe are quite ambitious.
For a while now, Australian rules football has tried to break into Africa. The game, recognizably played on oval grounds, is the number one sport in Australia in viewership and is only closely followed by the Rugby League. For several years now, there have been moderately successful attempts to introduce the game to Africa, with specific programs still under close development in Ghana, Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, AFL International, an organization who are seeking to grow the game internationally, coordinates the project. Their main objectives in Zimbabwe and elsewhere are to:
- Focus on youth and community development.
- Establish national leagues.
- Establish national teams for men and women.
- Establish Footy 9s (non-contact Australian football) as a primary sport in schools and universities.
Australia has sought to foster international relations through funding sports programs for several years now, recently funding a state-of-the-art cricket facility in Mbizo. Attempts to increase the popularity of the AFL in Africa appear to be part of the same policy.
AFL in Africa
Africans are not new to Australian football. In fact, in recent years, there have been many professional level players of African origin or descent who have gone off to play in the AFL. The first players drafted to the AFL tended to be from South Africa, such as Stephen Lawrence and Damian Cupido. The Sudanese player Majak Daw was the first African born outside of South Africa to draft to the AFL in 2010.
A Majak Daw spoil during the match between North Melbourne and Port Adelaide in 2018.
Some Zimbabweans have also found success in the AFL in Australia such as Tendai Mzungu. Mzungu played in 72 games over five years and was a close runner-up for the 2010 Sandover Medal, annually awarded to the ‘best and fairest’ player.
It is not clear yet whether the AFL will award the same medals in Zimbabwe such as the Coleman Medal, annually awarded to the player who kicks the most goals — with Jeremy Cameron expected to win in this year’s award ceremony.
The AFL also appears to look to draw more talent from Africa. One of the main goals for AFL International in Africa is to create an annual AFL Africa Combine, which will allow talented athletes to demonstrate their skills and get drafted to play in Australia.
The Telstra Dome aka the Marvel Stadium. Australian football takes place in giant oval stadiums.
Footy9s, the non-contact version of the sport, will play a big role in whether the game is successful here or not, as it will be how the AFL plans to gain grassroots participation among younger people.
Beyond that, however, AFL International has set quite lofty goals. They would like to make Australian football a national sport in Africa as well as part of the sports curriculum in schools while also introducing national teams and a national league. Only time will tell if the AFL will be successful in Africa, but the AFL International plans for the sport in Africa are ambitious and exciting for fans of the sport.