Names of Australian rules football

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A New South Wales player outmarks a Western Australian opponent in the goal square at the 1933 Australian Football Carnival at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The sport of Australian football has been called by a number of different names throughout its history. Since 1905, with the formation of the Australasian Football Council, the game has been called "Australian football". The name has been codified by the AFL Commission, as the game's name in the "Laws of Australian football".[1][2] Historically, the sport has been referred to as "Victorian rules" (referring to its origins in Melbourne), the "Victorian game", "Australasian rules", the "Australian game" and "Australian national football", "national football", the "bouncing game" and, derisively, "aerial ping pong" as well as several other names. Today, the common names for the sport are "Australian Football" and "Australian rules football" and it is referred to as "football", "footy", "Aussie rules" or sometimes, mistakenly, as "AFL" (a genericised abbreviation of Australian Football League, the sport's pre-eminent and professional competition).[3]

Historical names[edit]

The first "Laws of Australian football" were established in Melbourne in 1859 by Tom Wills of the Melbourne Football Club. This led to it being referred to as "the Victorian Game" or "Victorian Rules",[4] although in Victoria, the general term was just "football" as early as 1860.[5]

Australian rules football in Queensland prior to the turn of the 19th Century was referred to as "Association Football" as the league had affiliated with the Victorian Football Association (VFA). However as late as 1954, the term "Melbourne Rules" was used by newspapers in New South Wales and Queensland due to a long-held cultural rivalry.[6][7] Another term was "the bouncing game", used mostly in Western Australia in the 1880s and 1890s to differentiate from the other codes, where bouncing was not permitted.[8] The term "Bouncing Football" was introduced by West Australians early on to both the United States and Canada.

The name "Australian football" was in use outside Victoria by the late 19th century. A variant of this, acknowledging the participation of New Zealand, was "Australasian football".[9] The 1908 Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival featured a team from New Zealand. In 1927, the Australasian Football Council changed its name to the Australian National Football Council, to acknowledge that the sport was no longer being played competitively in New Zealand. State leagues were encouraged to include the term "Australian National" in their title, with the South Australian Football League (SAFL) becoming the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) in 1927, the Tasmanian Football League (TFL) becoming the Tasmanian Australian National Football League (TANFL) in 1928, and the West Australian Football League (WAFL) becoming the Western Australian National Football League (WANFL) in 1931. It was proposed that the Victorian Football League (VFL) become the Victorian Australian National Football League; however, this did not occur.[10]

Internationally, some countries chose to drop references to Australia from the name to aid its popularity and differentiate it from rugby (because rugby sides sent by Australia to these countries were branded as the "Australian football team"). Most notably Australian rules football in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s was known simply as "Field Ball" or "Fieldball",[11] during its revival in the 1990s, clubs chose to adopt the "Footy" moniker to differentiate it from rugby which many Americans associated with Australia.[12] Australian rules football in Nauru was simply called "Football", despite the presence of other codes including soccer. Likewise Australian rules football in Papua New Guinea was until the 1980s referred by locals simply as "Rules" or "Rules Football". The name variations were typically also adopted by the respective governing bodies.[13] The sport's popularity plummeted shortly after the NFL mandated that the Papua New Guineans call it Australian Rules. Branding of overseas competitions as AFL rather than Australian Football has helped standardise the sport's international brand.

Several distinctions were made in the three major footballing states regarding the quality of play across different leagues. In Victoria, the League football was considered superior to Association football (not to be confused with English association football (known as soccer); and for a time in the 1930s and 1940s, the distinction between the two competitions was necessary because they had sufficiently significant differences in rules that they were considered to be separate codes, similar to the eventual distinction between rugby league and rugby union.[14] In Western Australia, this distinction was also made between the West Australian Football League and the West Australian Football Association (formerly the 1st Rate Juniors competition), though the latter integrated into the WAFL reserves in 1921. There was also a distinction made in WA between the "coastal" (WAFL) and "'fields" (Goldfields Football League) leagues, who played each other regularly in the state premiership.[15] In the 19th century, there was also a distinction made in most leagues between "senior" and "junior" football; this was not to do with age, rather with quality of play.

In December 1948, a controversy occurred when Dame Enid Lyons, the Member for Darwin, referred to Australian football as "our national game" in Parliament.[16] This was rebuffed by the Prime Minister at the time, Ben Chifley, a New South Welshman, who suggested Lyons was "treading on dangerous ground". The secretary of the ANFC, Percy Page, sent a telegram reading: "Congratulations on your stand. The Prime Minister's obvious lack of knowledge of Australian sport is most regrettable."[17]

In 1958, the Australian National Football Council sought to officially rename "Australian Rules Football" to make it more accessible, "Mark" was the outright winner of the "Rename The Game" newspaper poll, with "Rules" and "Footy" being the other popular choices.[18] Despite the poll, a name change was not initiated.


The most common nicknames for the sport are "footy" and "Aussie rules". For much of the middle part of the 20th century, particularly in Canberra, the latter was shortened further to simply "Rules",[19] this usage is generally obselete in Australia.

The term "AFL" (abbreviation of Australian Football League) is mistakenly used to refer to the sport, mostly by newcomers to Australian Football in areas where the sport has not been widely played and the name of the pre-eminent competition is better known than the name of the sport. The Australian Football League has encouraged competitions to include the term "AFL" in their name[citation needed]: the Queensland Football League changed its name to AFL Queensland in 1999. The Australian Football League took over the business of the New South Wales Australian Football League Ltd and changed the name of the competitions from Sydney Football League (SFL) to Sydney AFL in 1998 and Australian Capital Territory Football League to AFL Canberra in 1999. Leagues outside of Australia also make use of this term. Most major newspapers in Australia use either "AFL" or "football" to refer to the sport.[citation needed]

The derogatory term "aerial ping-pong" is sometimes used mockingly to refer to the sport.[20][21]


  1. ^ "About the AFL: Australian Football (Official title of the code)". Australian Football League. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  2. ^ "AFL Rules – Laws of the Game". Australian Football League. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  3. ^ Connolly, Rohan (22 March 2012). "Name of the game is up in the air in NSW". The Age. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  4. ^ THE VICTORIAN GAME.Brisbane Courier. Published 27 July 1903. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  5. ^ FOOTBALL. MELBOURNE V. RICHMONDThe Argus. Published 14 May 1860. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  6. ^ Melbourne RulesSunday Herald. Published 21 September 1952. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  7. ^ Melbourne RulesThe Courier-Mail. Published 15 June 1954. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  8. ^ FOOTBALL RULES.The West Australian. Published 16 May 1882. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  9. ^ THE AUSTRALASIAN GAME.The West Australian. Published 3 May 1911. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  10. ^ National Game.The Advocate. Published 9 August 1927. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  11. ^ "Field Ball" will be adopted here. The San Francisco call. April 07, 1911, Page 12, Image 12
  12. ^ US Footy Ten Year Commemorative Book
  13. ^ "RULES CHALLENGE FROM AUSTRALIA". Papua New Guinea Post-courier. International, Australia. 9 March 1971. p. 22. Retrieved 26 September 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ Rover (2 October 1939). "Gallant win by W'Town". The Argus. Melbourne. p. 13.
  15. ^ COASTAL EIGHTEEN V. GOLDFIELDSThe West Australian. Published 23 July 1901. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  16. ^ National GameThe Examiner. Published 10 December 1948. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  17. ^ AUSTRALIA'S "NATIONAL" GAME UPHELDThe West Australian. Published 9 December 1948. Retrieved from Trove, 9 November 2011.
  18. ^ Press, Volume XCVII, Issue 28511, 14 February 1958, Page 6
  19. ^ "Soccer, Rules or Rugby??? It's all football in Australia". Good Neighbour. 1 May 1950. p. 6.
  20. ^ An old favourite: aerial ping-pong v biff and barge – Written by Richards Hinds. Published 26 March 2005. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  21. ^ Pearl, Cyril (1974). Australia's Yesterdays: A look at our recent past. Sydney: Reader's Digest Services Pty Ltd. p. 178. ISBN 0-909486-23-9.