Australian rules football in South Africa

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Australian rules football in South Africa
Country South Africa
Governing body AFL South Africa
National team South Africa
Nickname(s) Lions (formerly Buffaloes)
First played 1898
Registered players 9,400 (total)
2,000 (adult)
7,400 (junior)
Clubs 20
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match 10,123 (1998). Brisbane v. Fremantle. (Cape Town)

Australian rules football in South Africa is a fast-growing team sport, having grown in participation by 160% between 2005–07.[1]

Since 1996, the sport has been growing quickly amongst indigenous communities, beginning in the North West province and later spreading to Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape Province through the work of development officers. South Africa's national team made history in 2007 by competing against Australia's best Under 17 players as well as defeating a touring Australian amateur senior team for the first time. The governing body for the game in South Africa is AFL South Africa.


Early beginnings[edit]

Australian rules football was first played in South Africa in 1898 when Australian soldiers on Boer War service in South Africa played the game behind the lines.[2] Following this time, the game was played by some local teams. It is generally believed that interest and support for Australian rules football died following World War I.


In 1967, it was reported in the VFL Record's "Footy Facts" column that Australian football clubs existed in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town and that the VFL was optimistic about the future of the game in South Africa.[3] Little is known of how and when these clubs formed or what later became of them.

Development begins[edit]

In 1997, the Australian Defence Force visited the North West Province and the first talks of re-introducing the game began with some football clinics.[4] The key benefits of the game were seen to be the apartheid racial issues which plagued the nation's national sport, rugby union and providing potential indigenous athletes with other choices a chance to possibly play a professional sport besides association football (soccer), which is popular amongst indigenous communities. Australian Football is highly popular with indigenous Australian communities, and the potential for cross-cultural links was also regarded as an opportunity.

In 1998, an experimental exhibition match was played between the Brisbane Lions and Fremantle Dockers Australian Football League clubs in Cape Town. The game attracted 10,123 spectators and media interest. The South African Government declared Australian rules football the sport for "the new South Africa".[5] Later that year an Under 16 South African team competed in inaugural Jim Stynes Cup in Canberra. In the same year the Adelaide Crows conducted coaching clinics in South Africa. In 2000, talented South African born indigenous player Damian Cupido (who moved to Perth, Western Australia as a youngster) debuted for AFL club Brisbane Lions, stirring further Australian interest in the country as a source of potential talent. In 2001, the first AFL development officer was appointed.

International competition[edit]

In 2002, South Africa sent its first national team, the Buffaloes to the Australian Football International Cup held in Melbourne. The team was not successful, failing to win any games and being defeated by large margins. AFL South Africa was formed in 2003, as a development organisation and secured funding from the North West Academy of Sport, as well as Ausaid, Australian Volunteers International and Tattersalls. Brian Dixon became the inaugural chairperson, establishing a Head Office at 17 Kerk Str, Potchefstroom. With the success of the program, the Australian Football League began to contribute development funds in 2004, seeing the country as a potential source of playing talent. A greatly improved Buffaloes competed in the 2005 Australian Football International Cup. The team registered its first win at senior international level against Japan and also Spain, finishing 8th overall.

In 2005, the Australian Convicts toured South Africa. They defeated the Buffaloes, but the Buffaloes were competitive. South African born indigenous West Australian Football League player Paul "Gumby" Magambwa began entertaining crowds with spectacular skills.[6]

In 2006, the AFL announced it would send an All-aboriginal juniors side (from the Clontarf Foundation's Clontarf Football Academy [7]) headed by former Essendon star Michael Long and Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes to play 3 matches, including an International Rules match against local sides in South Africa.[8] Although the Australian team won easily [9] the AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou announced that he wanted to expand the International Rules Series to become a tri-series and include South Africa, believing that indigenous South Africans would prefer a game with a round ball. He also stated that he believed that a junior from South Africa will eventually play at the AFL level in around 5–10 years time.[10]

South Africa sent a side to the 2006 Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, showing some improvement, but losing games to New Zealand, the ACT and Australian aboriginal side. South African born Luke van Rheenen was selected in the 2007 rookie draft by the St Kilda Football Club.

The Lions in action during the historic 2008 Australian Football International Cup final against Ireland which South Africa won by a point to take 3rd place overall

In February 2007, a youth side toured Australia, playing a curtain raiser to the Aboriginal All-Stars match in Darwin as well as games in Kakadu and Perth all against indigenous youth sides. In March, the Australian Convicts returned to play a series of matches, and were defeated for the first time by the South African Buffaloes.[11]

On 14 April 2007, Australia's AIS Under 17 squad competed against the South African national Australian rules football team at North West Cricket Stadium in Potchefstroom, South Africa.[12] In April 2007, a large scale junior program, similar to Auskick called "Footy Wild" was launched and Frank Costa backed a large sponsorship deal for South African footy. The Geelong College 1st XVIII football team (along with the netball team) toured South Africa in June/July Aussie Rules matches at junior level against each of the main provinces. Although winning convincingly, The Geelong College formed positive relationships with the players and the trip proved to be a great investment for AFL in South Africa.[13]

In February 2008, the Flying Boomerangs again returned to South Africa on tour, this time attracting more local media interest.[14] In the same month, the AFL announced that 4 of its clubs had applied for access to specific recruiting zones in South Africa and to provide investment and development support through clinics and end of season tours. The clubs include Collingwood (Western Cape), Fremantle (North West), Carlton and the West Coast Eagles. Between 4–8 July 2008, the historic first senior AFL South Africa National Championships were held at the Kopanelo Cricket Ground in Potchefstroom from which the 2008 Australian Football International Cup squad was selected.[15] The Lions returned to the International Cup in 2008. Despite fielding a short team, the Lions were fast and skilful, and surprised their opponents with a 3rd placing overall taking some large scalps including its first wins over early tournament favourites the USA and Ireland and losing only to the eventual tournament winners Papua New Guinea.

The "SAAFL"[edit]

The South African Australian Football League was formed in October 2008. The league was started at the Douglas Murray Oval in Cape Town, South Africa, and is tightly contested between two teams. The original rules of the game have been modified by the SAAFL to suit the grounds available in South Africa.

The game is played in half a normal rugby field, measuring about 50m in length, and about 40m in width. There are only two goal posts at one end of the pitch, which can also be used to play rugby. The goals stand about 5 metres apart, and have a bar parallel to the ground about 3 metres high joining the two upright poles. 4 points are awarded if the ball is kicked from within the 22 metre "D" between the posts and over the horizontal bar, and 2 points are awarded if the ball goes under the horizontal bar. If the ball is kicked from outside the 22 metre "D" over the horizontal bar, 6 points are awarded. This is termed a "Mzanzi". The right to shoot at the goal is earned if a player marks the ball anywhere within the pitch, having caught the ball from one of their team mates kick. No umpires are present in the game, as although the game is tightly contested, the players respect the rules and enforce them accordingly themselves.


A map of South Africa highlighting in green the provinces in which development officers co-ordinated organised Australian rules football competitions in 2007.

From no players in 1997 to 160 senior and 540 junior players in South Africa in 2004.[16] By the end of 2005, it was reported by the AFL that there were over 3,000 players in the country. The AFL has set a target of 20,000 players in South Africa by 2009. In 2010 this target was reached and a new target of 40,000 was established.[citation needed]

By the end of 2007, the figures recorded a total of 7,800 participants including 3,000 senior players, 800 juniors and 4,000 Footy Wild (Auskick) participants.[1] This represents a growth in participation of 160% between 2005–07.

Notable players[edit]

AFL Listed Players[edit]

  • Damian Cupido (AFL / SANFL) - South African born AFL player who played for both Brisbane and Essendon
  • Luke van Rheenen (AFL) (07/03/1988) - South African born 201 cm rookie with the St Kilda Football Club (2007–2008)
  • Tate Day (AFL) - South African born player briefly rookie listed by the Brisbane Lions (1998)

State League Players[edit]

  • Bayanda Sobetwa (13/03/1990) - player from Cape Town who became the first South African to be first AFL player recruited from South Africa when he joined the Greater Western Sydney Giants.[17] Represented South Africa at the 2008 International Cup and played in the WAFL under 18s for Swan Districts.
  • Ziggy Alwan (SANFL) (23/11/1988) - South African born, season 2008 player for Norwood Football Club, recruited and returned to the Victorian Eastern Football League's Noble Park Football Club[18] where he grew up. Runner up in the reserves Magarey Medal and Norwood Reserves Best and Fairest in 2008
  • Mtutuzeli Hlomela (SANFL) - 167 cm soccer convert who played SANFL under 18s before captaining the South African national team in 2005 and 2008 International Cups and later national coach
  • Paul Mugambwa (WAFL) - (30/05/1981) - South African born, recruited from Bullcreek Leeming, 2005-9 senior list player for South Fremantle Football Club. The 182 cm forward is known for his spectacular high leap and mark.
  • Steven Malinga (07/05/1982) - South African national team vice-captain from Itsoseng who has played for Swan Districts in the WAFL reserves
  • Steven Matshane (02/04/1988) - outstanding junior talent from Mafikeng who has represented South Africa at under 18 level against Australia's AIS and indigenous under 18 squads and has also played in the WAFL reserves. Also represented South Africa at the 2008 International Cup. Has a home made tattoo of an AFL ball on his arm.
  • Thabiso Phakedi (25/02/1990) - player from Morokweng played in the WAFL under 18s for Swan Districts. Represented South Africa at the 2008 International Cup and was named in the World Team.
  • Tshepiso Mogapi (28/02/1991) - player from Itsoseng who has played in the WAFL under 18s for Swan Districts. Represented South Africa at the 2008 International Cup.

National team[edit]

The Lions are South Africa's national team. Their best result was in the 2008 Australian Football International Cup when they finished 3rd overall behind Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b AFL International Census
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  3. ^ AFL Record. Round 6, 2007
  4. ^ Playing by the Australian Rules from Time Magazine
  5. ^ South Africa embraces Australian Rules football
  6. ^ "Up there Gumby". Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. 
  7. ^ Clontarf Football Academy
  8. ^ Indigenous Aussies take series 3 - 0 but South African footy a winner by Brett Northey for
  9. ^ The Power of Many by Martin Flanagan for 15 March 2006
  10. ^ AFL wants South Africa to take on Australia by 2008 by Aaron Richard for
  11. ^ Buffaloes over Convicts - match report from
  12. ^ Aussie talent all class on African footy's big day from
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-19.  Geelong College visits South Africa
  14. ^ Upside-down football, mate by Niren Tolsi for Mail & Guardian South Africa
  15. ^ Official AFL Website of the Fremantle Football Club > News Article > AFL South Africa National Championships
  16. ^ World Footy Census 2004 - Africa by Brett Northey for
  17. ^ "Kevin Sheedy's Team Great Western Sydney signs South African". The Age. Melbourne. 1 February 2010. 
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 

External links[edit]