Aussie Rules Growing Up Around the World

Bryce Gibbs of the Crows is tackled by Kyle Langford of the Bombers during the round one AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the Adelaide Crows at Etihad Stadium on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

Bryce Gibbs of the Crows is tackled by Kyle Langford of the Bombers
during the round one AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the Adelaide Crows at Etihad Stadium on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia

March 22, 2018 – Source: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPac

 

Ever since Aussie Rules emerged from the pitches of Melbourne in the mid 19th century, the sport has grown to be one of Australia’s most popular.

With almost 1.5 million participants in the sport, Aussie Rules has found a place in the hearts of not only Australians but also many citizens around the world.

Almost 65 countries participate in the sport, from Iceland all the way to Bahrain, and every three years 18 of those teams compete for the International Cup.

Among others, there are two primary reasons why it has become so popular. One factor has been the support that ESPN gave to the sport back in the 80s. The other is the fact that many Australians who left the country ended up taking the game with them.

Some say that the popularity of Aussie Rules in Australia comes down to Melbourne’s escalating, but friendly, rivalry with Sydney. Melbournians have always embraced Aussie Rules as their own sport, as opposed to Sydney’s National Rugby League. In fact, there are many examples where this rivalry is self-evident in Australia, such as in poker.

Whilst Australia will always remain its most popular professional base, we wanted to put the spotlight on some of the nations helping the game to evolve around the world.

Canada

Established in 2004, one of the biggest leagues outside of Australia is AFL Canada, where there are almost 1000 registered players. The Canadian league has 21 clubs in six separate provinces operating across the vast nation, which that include Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and British Columbia.

The game was first played in 1989, but its popularity grew in the last few years due to one of its best exports—Mike Pyke, a Canadian who played for the Sydney Swans in the Grand Final in 2012.

In fact, Aussie Rules is so big that to this day it has the largest audience attendance for a game outside Australia: 32,789  for the Melbourne v. Sydney game in Vancouver in 1987.

USA

Aussie Rules can trace its roots in America all the way back to a mention in the NY Times over a century ago, but it wasn’t until 1996 that it first started being taken seriously. That is when the USAFL first kicked off.

It has evolved in popularity, growing to 38 men’s teams and 21 women’s teams in the country. Currently, there are around 3,000 players in total participating. America has produced players like Mason Cox and Jason Holmes, who play in the AFL.

For fans and players in America, the highlight on the Aussie Rules calendar comes in October when the USAFL hosts the USAFL National Championships.

Sweden

It’s not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Aussie Rules, but the game has slowly crept into the consciousness of the Nordic nation.

Its first game was played in 1993, and now it is played in eight different provinces. With only 500 players, it’s still in its early stages, but it’s working towards being recognised as an official sport in Sweden.

It finds its most popular home in the capital of Stockholm, with three teams operating separately in the area. The capital is governed by the Stockholm-region Australian Football Federation (SAFF). It has made it to the international cup three times.

South Africa

With almost 10,000 players punting across this African nation, Aussie Rules has grown remarkably ever since the South African Government declared the game to be the sport for “the new South Africa”.

Several players from South Africa have graduated to playing in the AFL—such as Tate Day Damian Cupido—but that is expected, since the nation takes the sport very seriously. The governing body for Aussie Rules in South Africa is AFL South Africa, and, in fact, their national team The Lions came in fourth at 2014’s International Cup.

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