Diversity on the field

Diversity on the field
Kashif Bouns

With a quarter of the current AFL lists coming from diverse backgrounds, Australian football is clearly becoming the sport of choice for multicultural communities. Kashif Bouns, head of the league’s diversity engagement strategy, talks to The Indian Sun about keeping the action and traction alive

Australian football is a uniquely Australian game which is a great strength but also makes it challenging to attract new migrants as most of them have never heard of the AFL prior to coming to Australia. Our job is to educate them from scratch, make them aware of the game, and subsequently love the game.

In terms of the South Asian community we have an advantage; they already love their sport especially Cricket. Cricket and AFL are both played on the same dimensions in terms of ovals, and most cricket clubs are also football clubs.

Kashif Bouns currently leads AFL’s diversity engagement strategy with a particular focus on the delivery and evaluation of the league’s multicultural programs nationally.

Kashif has over 10 years of experience working in management, business, sport, and community development sectors. A proud migrant from Pakistan, Kashif volunteers his time with a number of organisations and is also the founder of Shaheens Sporting and Social Club aimed at engaging youth through sport and social activities. He represented Australian Youth in Indonesia—2014 and in Malaysia—2013 through the Exchange programs organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Kashif has received a number of awards, including the Enterprising Grade of the Year 2013 from Box Hill Institute, Australian Federal Police (AFP) “Inspiring Youth” Community Award 2012, and the Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence 2011. Kashif is in the final semester of his MBA and is also a sessional lecturer in Applied Sport Marketing at Federation University and a guest lecturer at Victoria University.

The Indian Sun caught up with Kashif to talk about footy and how the AFL is trying to reach out.

What is AFL trying to achieve through its multicultural and diversity programme?

Australian football is becoming the sport of choice for diverse communities. Up to 25% of current AFL lists are from diverse backgrounds (11% Indigenous and 14% Multicultural).

Established in 2005, the AFL Multicultural Program is an award-winning program that introduces multicultural communities to Australian Football through a number of programs focusing on community engagement, leadership opportunities, personal development, community strengthening, and talent identification. The program ensures that Australian football is a vehicle that encourages community strengthening and inclusion within the wider Australian community, with that said, the AFL’s Multicultural programs are enabling more young talent to be identified and giving more opportunities to aspiring young AFL players from diverse backgrounds.

You have been working on making AFL more diverse. What has been your experience over the years?

I think it’s been great, and we’ve come a long way. We started in 2005 and at that stage it was more of a social inclusion focus, giving new Australians an opportunity to experience the Australian way of life through AFL. However, it has grown leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. It’s become a whole of business strategy, where we are trying to engage multicultural communities in multiple ways, through participation, talent, marketing and our community programs. AFL is also very committed to diversifying its workforce to reflect the community.

What kind of growth have you seen in the number of South Asians engaging with AFL?

The South Asian community is a significant section of the Australian community. Over the last decade, the migration from the South Asian communities especially the subcontinent has increased exceptionally which is why it’s imperative for the AFL to focus its energies on the South Asian communities, specifically India.

AFL has devised a number of programs to specifically cater to the South Asian communities. We have seen team from countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka participate in competitions like the AFL Unity Cup, the South Asian Footy Carnival and the AFL International Cup. Furthermore, AFL has also established a Multicultural Community Ambassador Program. The aim of the program is to further engage multicultural communities in Australian football through a network of dedicated volunteers.

A large number of our community Ambassadors come from South Asian backgrounds and help the AFL connect with the South Asian programs and community.

AFL is working closely with South Asian publications and ethnic media through platforms such as SBS and community newspapers. We have also established a number of programs to get more people from South Asian background playing the game – good examples are the Auskick centre at Craigieburn SIKH Temple which has seen hundreds of Indian kids get a taste of football over the last couple of years.

Aside from the media and publications, we also have a number of AFL games broadcasted during the Multicultural Round in Hindi and Punjabi over the last couple of years. In addition, during the Multicultural Round we have had significant entertainment and performances from South Asian communities.

What according to you is the missing link? What more can we do to get the traction we really require?

Australian football is a uniquely Australian game which is a great strength but also makes it challenging to attract new migrants as most of them have never heard of the AFL prior to coming to Australia. Our job is to educate them from scratch, make them aware of the game, and subsequently love the game.

However, in terms of the South Asian community we have an advantage; they already love their sport especially cricket. Cricket and AFL are both played on the same dimensions in terms of ovals, and most cricket clubs are also football clubs.

The biggest challenge of the AFL is to harness the passion South Asians have for cricket and transform that passion to the AFL. The image with the AFL being a contact sport is now shifting as people do realise they have non-contact options available at Junior levels and the AFL 9S for adults.

 What are the clubs that are more popular among South Asians? 

Essendon, Richmond and GWS Giants specifically targeted the South Asian communities, especially India. Each of these clubs is working on different strategies to reach the Indian community and have started to produce some results. Also, bigger Victorian clubs such as Collingwood, Carlton and Hawthorn have a sizeable following within the South Asian community.

Recently, with the rise of South Asian Immigrants moving to the Western suburbs of Melbourne, Western Bulldogs has also started to emerge as the club of choice within these communities.

A large number of South Asians live around in the West, what are the opportunities for Bulldogs in terms of membership or sponsorship from the community?

Clubs such as the Western Bulldogs and the GWS Giants that are located with the growth areas of Melbourne and Sydney respectively the opportunities to engage the South Asian communities are limitless.

We know from research that Immigrants from a South Asian background have a significant economic clout, and recently we have also seen an increase in the number of Indian businesses establishing a presence in Australia and the AFL provides an amazing opportunity for these businesses to build their brand in Australia through sponsorship opportunities.

The clubs have started to realise this potential and I am confident that in the future we’ll see a higher number of South Asian club membership and South Asian businesses investing in club sponsorships. We have already seen some examples such as iPrimus sponsoring Essendon a few years back and I am sure this trend will continue to rise.

 How is Auskick fairing with the kids in Wyndham, Whittlesea and Dandenong regions? Has there been any growth in numbers?

When we go out to these regions we definitely see a greater diversity at the clubs and Auskick centres in comparison to what we saw few years ago. However, we’ve only started collecting the demographic data for Auskick participants recently and in a short period of time there has definitely been a noticeable increase in the South Asian kids joining the Auskick. With that said, we’ve only just scratched the surface and we believe there is further potential for growth.

AFL and some clubs have over the years tried to take footy to the subcontinent. What are the results of those campaigns? Also AFL is trying to warm up to China as well. 

Over the years, AFL has grown organically in a number of countries around the globe, thanks to Australian expats living in those countries. While moving to these countries, people from Australia took the love for our great game and started to spread the good word among the locals. As the number of people playing in these countries started to grow, so did the support from the AFL. To provide people a taste of AFL in Australia, the AFL has established an event called the AFL International Cup which takes place every three years. The last tournament was in 2014, which saw more than 20 countries participate in the tournament in Melbourne. The tournament included the national teams from South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan.

In addition, different AFL clubs have also experimented with establishing a presence in a number of countries with St Kilda playing a number of games in New Zealand over the last couple of years as well as Essendon sending a group of its most high profile players to India a couple of years ago for a cultural journey.

Port Adelaide has signed a significant sponsorship with a Chinese company and is now looking to play a game in China in the coming years and there have been numerous discussions around taking the game to India as well. The AFL Multicultural unit is focused on growing the game within the multicultural communities already living in Australia and that’s the purpose of our job, however the AFL has also established an International unit that oversees the growth of the game internationally.

Could you tell us more about footy players with Indian background?

Balraj Singh, drafted by Adelaide a few years back has been the only Indian player to be drafted, however he did not end up playing any senior AFL game. There are a few Anglo-Indians, such as Daniel Kerr from West Coast and currently we have players such as Alex Morgan from Essendon and Blaine Boekhorst from Carlton who have an Indian heritage.

The most important aspect is that there a number of kids coming through our talent pathways who should be playing at elite level in the next few years.

What is the single biggest factor that’s blocking South Asian’s embracing footy? Is it their obsession for cricket?

As I said before, South Asians love their cricket so it’s our job to educate them to love our great game. The biggest barrier is awareness. Awareness of the game, how to get engaged and where to get started, that’s probably our biggest barrier.

With that said, I strongly suggest everyone to keep an eye out on our social media platforms to find out more about how to get involved.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AFLdiversity
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AFLMulticulturalProgram


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