IN 2008, Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting began promoting the game of Australian football in Kolkata, India. At the time Sudip was in his final year of high school, and he fell in love with the game, forming a team with school friends.
He later got a degree in Sports promotion in England where he also played for some English sides . He spent four years touring England and India while spending a lot of time and his own money learning how other countries run Australian rules. Sudip says his best support has come from the Australian Trade Commissioner in India, Tom Calder (who also serves as the President of the ARFAI)
Sudip was further inspired by watching the footy at live events, including Lance Franklin kicking his 100th goal at Telstra Dome.
Indian football is funded by a grant from the Australian Sports Commission through the Australian Sports Outreach Program at this time, but Sudip says that there has been little to no involvement from expatriate Australians in the games development. Its Australian football, by Indians for India.
Sudip says that that Indian football is City/State based, with one major team supported by district sides. In total, there are roughly 500-600 players in six states in India, which includes 4-5 womens teams. There are 250 players in the state of West Bengal alone. When he started, Sudip had almost no players and a single state. Its fair to say he’s come a long way in four years.
City sides play once a year in a national tournament, due to the distance between cities. Sudip says that to set up the second city in India for development, he had to take a 22 hour bus ride (equivalent of driving from Adelaide to Perth)
Sudip says that the goal at the moment is to develop another two states to meet the eight state minimum required for official government recognition. This is important because some players cant get time off for national commitments as the sport is not officially recognised by the Indian Government.
States are aligned to different AFL sides, including the Giants, Bombers and Tigers. Sudip says Richmond are the top supporters of Australian Football in India, providing the jumpers, and other assistance particularly during the International Cup.
Playing fields are hard to come by, and the competition is 9 a side, played on rugby or soccer pitches throughout India. Sudip does say that they are hoping to get a cricket field in Mumbai this year for the National Tournament.
Coaching is mostly done by experienced players – expat Aussies are almost non existent in the Indian football environment – with the assistance of videos and other materials.
Indian Football drew from rugby players in its early days, and Sudip says that many people still confuse the two games
Sudip was part of the first Indian team to go to the International Cup in 2008, and he will lead the team in its 2014 journey. He recalls being beaten quite badly as one of the newest teams on the block. India have finished 16th in both 2008 (from 16 teams) and 2011 (from 18 teams) and are ranked 19th at the tournament with a 9% win/loss ratio.
The Indian team at the cup will be picked from the National Championship between the six states, and those who can afford it will make it to Australia, with about half the side made up of Australian based Indians. Sudip says that many talented players cant make it to Australia due to the expense.
You can read about the AFL in India in this article from the Time of India.