Doing business with India, the Australian football way

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Sydney : Sport is what Australia excels in. Now the government is using the Australian Football League (AFL) to deepen sport and business links with India.

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For the first time, an Indian football team is in Melbourne participating in the AFL International Cup. It kicked off Wednesday, featuring 15 international teams including from the US, Britain and Japan.

Welcoming the teams to Australia, Minister for Trade Simon Crean said: “The International Cup is an excellent platform to build sport and business links with India. I would like to congratulate the AFL for this initiative. The government will continue to work with them to assist in promoting our great game overseas.”

AFL general manager David Matthews said he was delighted an Indian team was competing in the International Cup.

“AFL India was formed 18 months ago in Kolkata. With cricket ovals vacant in winter months, there is a great opportunity for Australian football to become a sporting option for young Indian boys and girls throughout the country. We look forward to the game’s growth in the years ahead,” said Matthews.

Balraj Singh, a former AFL Crows player and mentor to the Indian team, said he was excited to be sharing his passion for AFL football with the Indian team.

“I have been working with the Indian team to hone their skills on the football field. The side shows great promise and as the sport gains popularity in India, more people will want to be involved and this will lift the standard of play,” he said.

India played Samoa in its first game Wednesday. The Indian team will train with the Essendon Football Club Thursday and play against New Zealand on Friday.

“We see it as a great opportunity to introduce Australian Rules Football to India. We are hosting the Indian team at our home ground in suburban Essendon. They will watch our senior team train and then train themselves,” Essendon Football Clubs’ chief commercial officer, Mark Anderson, told IANS.

“Indians are now the number one immigrants into the state of Victoria and Indian overseas students are the second largest cohort of international students in the state. We are encouraging students and immigrants to play AFL as it will help them integrate with the community by getting involved and connected with this very Australian cultural activity,” Anderson said.

Essendon Football Club, one of the largest clubs in Australia with a membership base of 42,000 and over one million people attending their games in a season, are working with the AFL with a view to playing an Australian Rules Football match in India early next year.

The AFL has grand plans for expanding its presence into India with two exhibition matches to be played at the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground in New Delhi and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in early 2009.

“Presently the AFL and Austrade (Australian Trade Commission) are partnering to deliver exhibition games in India in late January – early February 2009. We are planning to have the game played between two AFL clubs before a crowd of approximately 10,000 people and to be televised both in Australia and in India,” Austrade’s Senior Trade Commissioner for South Asia Peter Linford told IANS.

“We will link Australian and Indian businesses to deliver the match and to provide profiling sponsorship opportunities for mutual benefit,” Linford said.