Most ugly Americans associate Australian Rules Football with the early days of ESPN, the kind of bizarre, out of the way rugged sport that was a throwback to the old days of the NFL tinged with the head banging of rugby. All ruffian, bizarre rules, broken bones, bloodthirsty screams.
However like ESPN, AFL has come a long way both in presentation, professionalism and outreach as a sport that can unite even the most controversial issues across Australia. The latest example of using AFL as a social unifier is The Flying Boomerangs, a personal development and leadership program incorporating a match series against developing international countries (South Africa 2006 and 2008, PNG 2009 and Tonga in December 2010). The participants are 14 -15 years of age and were selected from the KickStart Camp that was conducted in Sydney in August. The program brings together peoples of all backgrounds to learn teamwork and life skills through the AFL it’s players and its senior leadership. A game that was once divisive now brings together cultures, races and backgrounds, with the goal of being a social motivator for change in the South Pacific.
In addition to team unity, the participants learn lessons on health issues, gain educational skills and participate in employment initiatives not just during the program but well after it is over. People of differing races learn to work together all rallying around Australia’s most popular and beloved and sometimes misunderstood national game. While many team sports use life skills as a metaphor, the AFL puts the skills to the test with the “Flying Boomerangs” year round, not only growing the game to an immigrant community biut also helping interweave tolerance and understanding into everyday life across the continent.
Yes the AFL may cause TV sports nostalgists to wax philosophic about the original days of the network, the work the AFL is doing these days as a brand and as a force in the culture of Australia is far more important, and is certainly worthy of coverage even on “The Worldwide Leader”‘s craziest days in 2011. Great example of sports aspiring higher.