As the popularity of soccer is soaring in America following the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Americans are increasingly opening up to sports other than the “Big 4”. Although soccer, by far the world’s most popular sport, is finally finding an American audience, several complaints about the game remain. Americans still seem to find soccer somewhat boring due to its low scoring, and apparent lack of toughness. In America, where we have basketball scores in the hundreds, and football hits that end players’ careers, some find soccer too “European” and foreign. It is for these reasons that another import sport, Australian rules football, could potentially overtake soccer in America if marketed correctly.
Australian rules football is an extremely fast paced game that would be best described to American sports fans as a mixture between basketball, soccer and American football. The game has existed in its modern form since the 1850s, longer than soccer or baseball. A match consists of four 20 minute quarters, with stoppage time added to the end of each quarter, and is played on a large oval shaped field with four goal posts on each end of the ground. If the ball is kicked through the center posts, a goal worth six points is scored, and if it passes through the outer two posts, a behind worth one point is scored. Players are allowed to kick or tap the ball with a closed fist or open hand to teammates, but cannot pass the ball. Players are allowed to run with the ball, but must dribble it at least once every 50 feet.
Aussie rules is easy to pick up, as positions are fluid, and players roam the entire field, unlike soccer, where attacks by defenders are rare. The game moves fast, and because there are no goalkeepers, goals are abundant, with scores often approaching and broaching the hundred point threshold. Aussie rules also is extremely physical, with bone jarring hits a common sight welcomed by fans and coaches alike. There is constant movement with little stoppage between plays. The game requires great endurance, athleticism and unique skill sets such as good hands and solid footwork. The skills often transfer over to American football, as players such as Darren Bennett and Sav Rocca have carved out successful NFL punting careers following their AFL retirements.
Although to date, Australian rules football has been largely confined to the island continent where it was conceived, it has begun to spread internationally. ESPN airs several matches live on Saturday nights, and also shows matches on their broadcasting website, ESPN360.com. There is also a professional American league, the USAFL, and many college clubs.
As Americans open up to new sports, and with the ability to expand coverage thanks to the internet and satellite television, Australian rules football is sure to receive a bump in popularity in America. And when it does, you can say that you heard about it here first.
YouTube clip: Big Bumps of the AFL