For any game, money comes from viewership and that makes India with its more than a Billion population, an ideal location to grow Australian Rules football or Footy. Launched in India in the early 2008, footy is still in its infancy for obvious reasons. Former Australian Cricket Captain Ricky Ponting was instrumental in promoting the game there, while playing for Kolkata knight Riders in Indian Premier League. Footy was first launched in Kolkata in 2008 and that was the first mistake AFL had made in India. Selling Footy in Kolkata and Kerala, the two soccer loving states in India is as difficult as selling ice to Eskimos. Bengalis and Keralites will find it easy to spot a correlation between the two games but when there is football, why should they go for Footy? The experiment will definitely fail and AFL’s will find parallels with their experience in introducing Footy in Italy. Spending money will help in creating local teams and organising footy matches, but if it can’t arouse people’s interest, it will never pick up the momentum. Naturally a question may arise – where in India got a fertile soil for Footy to grow?
The answer lies in dissecting the game in a way that may enrage a footy fan. If Cricket and Golf are the games gentlemen play, Footy is the game of the uncivilised. I do not derive any momentary pleasure in degrading a game, but the game always resembled like throwing a piece of meat to a pack of hungry dogs and every dog jumping in the air to have a bite of it. The other such sports are -boxing, Kabaddi and weightlifting, where physical power pays. Only two states in India excel in such sports and they are Punjab and Haryana. If Footy has to be a big hit in India, it should begin its journey from Punjab and Haryana, and not Kolkata.
AFL says, now Footy has spread to 7 states in India with more than 8500 players actively playing the Game. The Indian team first participated in 2008 International Footy Cup without any win but since then improved their performance every year. Essendon and Adelaide Football Clubs are in the process of forming a strategic partnership to grow the game of AFL in India. Their strategies to achieve the goals include, creating business and commercial partner networks, offering cultural awareness training to their players and strategically incorporating an AFL India Game Development Program. The Game development program includes working in close partnership with the Indian Community in Australia. The students from India studying in Australian Universities could become good brand ambassadors for the game when they return after their studies. Currently most of the development work in India is done voluntarily. South Indian film star, Khushboo who is an honorary member of the Richmond FC, is one of those Indian Celebrities agreed to promote Footy in India on a volunteer basis. Khushboo, who is in her fifties may still be able to sell Australian Bikinis in India, but her appeal to develop footy in India could be doubtful. Naturally a question may arise – Who is the best to promote Footy in India and who can make Footy an instant Indian hit overnight?
Indians always danced to the tunes of Bollywood Music. If a foreigner has to sell anything new to Indians overnight, look no further – Only Bollywood could do it. An inspiring movie of a poor, downtrodden, Indian Immigrant to Australia, who with his hard work made it big as a Footy star in Australia – the lead role played by Bollywood heartthrobs like Salman Khan – Then Footy will catch the imagination of the nation overnight, provided the movie is made good. Else it will be years of struggle to develop the game in India and it may never turn out to be a success story. When the British sold Cricket to the Indians, the British were the Masters of India and Indians strangely shared the habit of copying their masters, like the rest of Asia. But now, India under Narendra Modi is a confident nation and the slavery mentality Indians displayed all these years have just vanished into thin air. Moreover, the White skin doesn’t hold much sway over the Indians as it used to be.
India now has its annual National Footy Championship with teams from seven states participating in senior and junior divisions to win the titles. The state teams are; Jharkhand Crows, Bengal Tigers, Odisha Swans, Rajasthan Eagles, Maharashtra Giants, Tamil Nadu Kangaroos and Kerala Bombers. Australian Rules Football in India (ARFAI) was launched in early 2008 by Ricky Ponting in Kolkata. Since 2008, ARFAI has taken part in the Australian Football International Cup (AFIC) hosted by the AFL on a triennial basis. With the support from AFL Victoria and the Essendon Football Club, ARFAI launched the AFL India chapter in Australia, the Bharat Football Club (BFC).
Catching the young is necessary, to grow the game in India. Funding school level Footy Teams in India for primary and secondary school students is the best way forward. Australian Companies with business Interests in India could be a willing partner to address the funding issue. This will also help to sidestep the restrictions imposed by Indian Government on NGO funding. India with its huge population is like a sea and the rainy drops will always find place to merge.