In this sixth part of this series on International Australian Football I talked briefly with the secretary of AFL Fiji, Robert Wolfgramm about how the game is progressing in the island nation.
Australian Footy in Fiji traces its roots back to 2004, and a former Fiji Police Commissioner, Andrew Hughes, an Australian who had played some amateur football in Australia and was keen to grow the game in Fiji. At a meeting in mid 2004, Hughes called a meeting of interested Police officers with the intent of using the Force as the basis for developing a local football competition. According to the Police Public Relations Officer at the time, Mesake Koroi , ‘many top rugby players joined in and it started off well, but there was no one except Hughes to run the programme, so it was hard because, of course, he had other police work to attend to’.
In 2005, Robert Wolfgramm (formerly of Melbourne University) of the Fiji Daily Post met with Hughes to express his interest in Australian Football and his desire to help by giving the sport publicity through the newspaper. However, the Fiji Football Association would wind up at the end of that year due to lack of resources and direction without formally setting up a league.
Robert gives credit for the modern AFL Fiji to the Rodan family, including David Rodan Jnr, of Richmond and Port Adelaide in the AFL, who in 2008 had wanted to renew the islands acquaintance with Australian football and was made an ambassador by the AFL. With fellow Port player, Alipate Carlisle, he presented an idea for AFL Fiji to Port Adelaide with the intent of getting the clubs assistance. The AFL in turn, liked what they heard and teamed Rodan up with the head of AFL Asia Pacific, Andrew Cadzow.
In 2009, Cadzow presented the Rodan plan to a group of Fijian locals, of whom about 15 tiurned up. After two meetings in July of 2009, the steering committee was formed and in 2010, AFL Fiji was formed as a Fiji registered not for profit charity.
There are approximately 50 core players of Australian Football in Fiji over the age of 16, but Robert says that thousands have been through various footy clinics held at schools throughout the country.
There are only two senior teams – Delta Blue Cats and City Red Swans, both of whom play at the Albert Park in Suva. A new team is hoped to be established next year in the west of the country.
A new womens team is being formed with about 12 players. Robert says junior teams are only put together for carnivals like the Under 16s Oceania Cup and the school based Fiji Day Cup.
Matches are played weekly from February to November with a break during August . The number of players per side can vary from week to week. Robert says it can be 9’s, 12’s, 15’s and even 18 a side, but 15 a side is the most common with several on the bench.
The national side had a 3 match series against fellow island nation, Nauru, who beat the Fijians quite soundly in their encounters, but the Fijians took it as a good learning experience to use for the upcoming International Cup.
Fiji has performed reasonably well at the International Cup given its late development in the sport, winning the second division at the last International Cup in 2011 on debut.
Note: we were unable to conduct an audio interview for this, and we thank Robert Wolfgramm for his correspondence.