Wed. May 29th, 2024

Australian sport with a ‘weird-shaped ball’ is making a mark in this South America country

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts May15,2024
Key Points:
  • A joint initiative between the Australian and Colombian governments is growing Aussie Rules in the South America country.
  • As part of that, three players have been awarded scholarships to play football in Australia for a season this year.
  • Former Sydney Swans’ captain Josh Kennedy is hosting one of the players as well as helping with training clinics.
Growing the sport of Aussie Rules has come with several challenges in the country of Colombia, which include finding ovals to play, and securing the goal and behind posts.
As part of a joint initiative by the governments of Australia and Colombia, as well as the Australian Football League (AFL), the sport of Aussie Rules is being transplanted to the South American country.
Through the AFL’s Future Leaders program, the first tranche of three Colombian players arrived in Australia recently to play for the Fitzroy Stars as well as to attend English classes.
According to Ben Hopwood, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Bogotá, the plan is for these players to return to Colombia with the skills and knowledge to further develop the game there.
The Bogotá Bulldogs are a fully amateur club dedicated to establishing and growing Aussie Rules in Colombia.
Locally, the club splits into three teams for their domestic league: the Colombian Australian Football League (CAFL).
Then, once a month, the teams play each other and the best team at the end of each year wins the CAFL trophy.

Travis Crockett, a former coach and player with the Bogotá Bulldogs, said the AFL Colombia initiative began “with a couple of mates kicking in the park”, to now growing to over 200 registered players.

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From L to R: Alejandro Susa, Travis Crockett and Óscar Marina.

“A lot of Colombians grow up surrounded by poverty, gangs, violence and footy gives them a chance to focus on something positive. This is a community, a footy family and everyone’s welcome,” Crockett said.

“There’s really no limit to how big this sport can get in Colombia and across the whole of Latin America.”
Former Hawthorn and Sydney Swans’ player, Josh Kennedy, along with his family, recently welcomed the three scholarship winners – Estefanía Gualteros, Alejandro Susa and Óscar Marina.
Kennedy said his association with Colombia began 12 years ago when he met and married his Colombia-born wife, Ana.

“It’s a great experience for them … Estefanía is living with us, with my family and children in Glen Iris, and the three of them are playing footy here on a team, working, and learning English,” Kennedy said.

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From L to R: Alejandro Susa, Estefanía Gualteros and Óscar Marina.

Kennedy has coached clinics for children in Bogotá and attended a training session for the Bogotá Bulldogs.

“The biggest thing for me is just the enjoyment you see people getting from the game,” he told Aussie Rules, The World Podcast.
“It is really cool to see that the game is being played and loved on the other side of the world.”
After their stint in Australia, the three scholarship holders will rejoin their Colombian teammates and compete at the AFL Transatlantic Cup Regional International Tournament, which has replaced the International Cup, in Toronto in August.
The tournament will also feature Aussie Rules teams from Canada, the US and Europe.

Marina said the idea behind the scholarship was, “… to grow from this and get my footy to a higher level so I can come back and teach all of my teammates.”

I don’t think there are words that can describe the passion, the energy and, above all, the respect that you see in this sport. On the field we are rivals, but off the field we remain friends.

Estefanía Gualteros

Gualteros said she had seen firsthand how passionate locals are about AFL.
“Footy in Australia is crazy,” she told SBS Spanish.
“When you’re in Colombia and you watch footy on the screen, you think ‘OK, it’s a cool sport demanding different abilities’, but when you arrive in Australia and you experience it, and play it, it feels (a lot more) (multi-)dimensional.”
For Susa, his football experience in Australia has generated surprises as well as some funny moments.
For example, the large dimensions of the playing field in Australia had resulted in him standing in the wrong place during one of his early games with the Fitzroy Stars, he said.

Both Susa and Gualteros said football had opened up many new pathways for them.

Footy gave me life, which for me means light on many paths. Sport changes absolutely everything.

Estefanía Gualteros

“I feel that sport is the strongest link, the most solid bridge, to connect nationalities, cultures, talents, and above all, to provide opportunities to realise dreams,” Gualteros added.

Aussie Rules training in Colombia is ‘complicated’

Crockett, who has coached teams in both Bogotá and Medellin, said the challenge of teaching AFL in Colombia was that “you start from absolute zero”.
“Kids have never seen it before. (They might say:) ‘I don’t know what this weird-shaped ball is, I don’t understand why if I miss the goal, I still get a point’,” he said.
“(As far as skills go) running backward when you catch a ball does not come naturally for anybody. They all want to play on.”
Another challenge was finding a place to play as fields were almost always dedicated to the sport of Association Football, or soccer, in a nation with four million registered players, he said.
The goalposts had to be imported, he confirmed.
The most satisfying aspect of developing Aussie Rules in Colombia was to be able to share the amazing gift and community that we got from AFL when we were younger, Crockett said.

To listen to the full podcast, tap the play icon at the top of the page.

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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2 thoughts on “Australian sport with a ‘weird-shaped ball’ is making a mark in this South America country”
  1. This is such an inspiring initiative! It’s wonderful to see the collaboration between Australia and Colombia in promoting Aussie Rules. Skill exchange programs like this can truly help grow the sport globally.

  2. It’s great to see the initiative between Australia and Colombia to promote Aussie Rules in a country where it’s not traditionally played. The challenges faced in finding suitable grounds for play are real, but with dedication and support, the sport can truly flourish in Colombia. Kudos to all involved!

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