Girls break into the huddle

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While male players dominate attention in Australia, Aussie Rules Football (AFL) is finding new on-field talent among women in a most unlikely place: India

Two girls teams pulled on jerseys and picked up Australia’s famous oval-shaped ball on the first weekend of May to play in an Aussie Rules Football (AFL) tournament in Mumbai. It’s the first time girls teams have been listed to play in the three-day tournament, which was started by Australian expat Lincoln Harris, who runs a travel company. The competition saw 8 senior teams, 6 junior teams and 2 girls teams taking to the field, playing 34 matches in total.

The Indian Sun caught up with Harris to find out how he got girls in India playing Australia’s favourite sport.

This is the first time you had a women’s match officially in the tournament schedule — how did you make this happen?

Through our association with a Mumbai NGO called Reality Gives we managed to get around 20 young women down for a match. Many of them play soccer during the year but after being introduced to the sport at last year’s tournament, and enjoying it so much, we made sure to formally include them in this year’s tournament. Australian company Gozer Media was good enough to be the jersey sponsor for the women’s teams. It was a great moment when we distributed the tops to them and they could pull them on before the match, just as the guys do – there is a lot of pride and potential in that act and it’s a really special part of playing team sport.

My favourite moment was seeing one of the players managing to run almost the entire length of the field, alluding tackles and with a huge pack of players following her, to kick a goal. I think those watching got as much of a thrill out of it as the player herself!

We would love to get more girls playing the game in Mumbai, and aim towards four teams next year. We would also love to take a girls team to the national tournament, but first we need to find girls teams from other states for them to play against!

What were your favourite moments from the weekend?

For me, listening to the Indian national anthem was very moving. We had a PA system set up and just before the start of the seniors grand final I spontaneously suggested that we play the anthem. Someone hurriedly found a copy on their phone (not surprisingly the DJ didn’t have it in his repertoire), and, with all of the players, spectators and volunteers lined up along the boundary line, an instrumental version of the anthem gently played out with many of the players singing. The players seemed to visibly swell with pride, and like the AFL grand final, there was a big cheer when the anthem finished and players took their positions. I don’t think anyone in attendance will forget the moment.

What does this tournament mean for the players and community?

For some of the players it means everything! Some are completely taken by Aussie rules – training everyday and gearing up for these tournaments for many months leading up to it. The tournament is also when we select the squad for the national tournament (which will be held in Kolkata in November this year), so that adds extra importance for them. The game has brought together young men from a wide variety of backgrounds, which was a big part of why I started playing the sport in Mumbai four years ago – a chance for people to come together and try something new with people they might not normally associate with, including foreigners, local professionals, uni students and more important socially or economically disadvantaged young people. We have built a small but tight-knit and very meaningful community around footy — there would not be anything more I could hope for out of the whole thing.

What’s the future for the tournament in Mumbai?

Always bigger! Around 12 teams in both juniors and seniors would be ideal. We will also focus on getting more local media coverage as a way to promote the game and increase participation. We aim to have a proper website and someone looking after social media in time for the next event. There are many great images and stories that come out of three days of footy, and sharing that with the Indian public and the footy-loving public in Australia would be worthwhile.

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