In this seventh installment in the International Footy series we talk to Bruce Parker, the President of AFL Canada.
Bruce is heavily involved in the Central Blues club in Ontario. He’s been an official, an umpire, a coach and a player. He first saw the game on ESPN via Satellite in the early 90s. Later he went to a mall and saw an information booth run by a local Aussie rules club, and he subsequently joined. That was twenty years ago, and he’s still as big a believer now as he was then.
Bruce says that AFL Canada’s role is three-fold – Develop the national team, Develop the game in Canada, and assist the clubs where there isnt a league to grow the game so they can have their own league.
The board of AFL Canada is dominated by expatriate Australians with only 2 Canadians, including Bruce, of a total of nine.
Bruce also explains that the AFL has certain expectations with regard to players and staff, as well as junior development. AFL Canada’s responsibility is to develop athletes who are AFL draft worthy, while also developing players who can play at the top of the national league and win international cups.AFL Canada has 4 leagues under its umbrella –
- BC Footy consists of a 4 team senior competition and 1 womens team that plays internal matches, and once a year they meet up with the Alberta league sides. In addition they have the North Delta Junior AFL Competition (run by Mike Mcfarlane)
- In Alberta, they have womens and mens clubs in Calgary and Edmonton who more or less play each other, although AFL Canada expects at some point that they will split the clubs. When the cities play each other its 18 a side.
- AFL Quebec, the french speaking brethren, who have a 4 team 9 a side competition that plays on Sundays.
- AFL Ontario – 10 teams, playing 18 a side. Covered in depth here.
There are approximately twelve to thirteen hundred particpants, mostly adults over the age of eighteen. Of that thirteen hundred, around fifty percent are expatriate Australians. Bruce explains that while Ontario strictly limits the number of Australians per side, Alberta on the other hand is primarily expat Australians. This leaves about 700 players of Canadian Origin.
There are several schools programs across the country. Vancouver has the longest running of these. They have under 12’s, under 14s, under 16s and under 18s programs playing generally 9 a side games on soccer fields due to a lack of ovals.
Most clubs will play modified rules depending on what grounds available. Generally soccer fields or canadian football fields are utilised due to their greater prominence. Ottawa uses the inside of a race track.
AFL Canada has an excellent relationship with the USAFL, with Calgary traveling down to the USAFL National Championships, along with the womens sides. Canadian clubs play friendly games against US sides. Bruce says its all about building the game.
He describes the relationship with the AFL as a tough one, he compares it to the NHL, which has nothing to do with international development in the game, to the AFL who appears genuinely interested in game development.
At the moment there isnt a Canadian mens nationals, but the women sides do have one. This year they had 8 womens teams attend the 9 a side Canadian national championships with all Canadian womens sides represented, totalling more than a hundred women.
Bruce says they want to have a mens nationals but with Ontario having a very structured and full season, its hard for them to commit to an additional nationals with flights and other costs involved. AFL Canada would like the nationals to be the stepping stone between clubs and national representation, where at the moment the national side is selected from the clubs level.
Eventually AFL Canada would like to receive Government support from Sport Canada but there are a number of roadblocks to that. Currently they are only in 5 provinces, out of 8, and they fall short of the 5,000 members required. Bruce reckons that AFL Canada will get to that point within the next 5 years.
Bruce also went into some detail on AFL Canada and its relationship with AussieX, a company which specialises in bringing various sports including Australian Football, cricket and netball to schools. It was founded by an ex player from the Ontario league who was the development officer for the OAFL, responsible for the school clinics. AussieX does work with local clubs to indentify local players to get them to the club scene, with some successes.
AFL Canada attended the very first International Cup in 2002, and are looking forward to next years after the disappointment of the 2011 edition. Their best finish has been 5th at the 2008 Cup. Bruce says their losses at the cup have been close ones, and the Canadians are better than the results suggest.
If you want to be involved in footy in Canada, you should consult the website at www.aflcanada.com.