Amidst an Australian winter in the 1850s, a group of athletes decided there needed to be a new sport to keep cricket players active in the offseason, writing basic rules for a game that would become Australian Football as we know it today. In the years that followed, Australian Football clubs began to form across Australia and Tasmania (1). Women began playing the sport in 1921. The sport became internationally played throughout the 1900s, with the first Australian Football International Cup occurring in 2002 with 11 countries present.
The United States Australian Football League (USAFL) is a non-profit grassroots organization founded in 1997 to grow Australian Football, promote Aussie culture, and encourage American participation in the sport. The organization has 50 clubs across the nation under its umbrella, with most clubs featuring both a men and women’s team. The USAFL hosts regional and national events in various locations from April through October. 2022 marks USAFL’s 25th anniversary, a large milestone for the organization and the growth of the sport overall.
The game is played in 4 20-minute quarters with 18 players per team on the field. The team who scores the most points wins. Players can kick or catch the ball with their hands to move the ball up the field. When the ball is kicked between the two middle goal posts, a six-point goal is scored. Two smaller posts called ‘behinds’ sit outside both sides of the goal posts. If the ball is kicked between the goal posts and behind posts, one point is scored. (2) “It’s similar to soccer in that the primary way to move the ball is by kicking, but you can use your hands to catch it. There’s also hitting and tackling like football and jump balls like basketball. It’s very high scoring and non-stop action. Teams can score 100 or more points,” Doren James, Executive Director at USAFL says.
Check out this video to learn more about how to play the game!
Like cricket, Australian Football is played on an oval-shaped field. The dimensions can vary in size but are typically between 135 and 185 meters in length and 110 and 155 meters in width. The goals are set at the furthest ends of the oval. With such a unique field shape and size, the challenge for USAFL is finding places to play. The group often hosts events at cricket or polo fields. Certain soccer venues also work well for the organization, if the fields are on flat, open spaces with no barriers or obstacles between fields. Generally, 2 soccer fields make up 1 Australian Football field. For their regional events, USAFL only needs space for 2 of their oval fields, and for nationals, they need to fit 5 oval fields.
“Our biggest challenge is that we are played on an oval. I spend a lot of time looking for venues that can host us. With our field dimensions being so long and big, we generally will take up two soccer fields to make one of our fields. A lot of soccer venues are designed specifically for soccer events, so they have lights in between fields that make it challenging to fit a full size oval across two fields,” James shares.
“We hosted an event at the National Sports Center in Minnesota, which was incredible since they have 54 soccer fields. It’s a huge campus and fit our event well. Additionally, one of the best venues we’ve found to host our Nationals is in Florida at Premier Sports Campus. They have this big flat open space, and we can set up our fields exactly how we’d like them. They also have all the amenities we need onsite. The right venue makes my job and the event that much easier and better,” James notes.
From April through October, USAFL runs Regional events that lead up to Nationals in October. The organization hosts three Regionals: West, Central and East. Fifteen teams compete in each Regional event, which influences their seeding at Nationals. Nationals features over 50 teams competing across four men’s divisions and two women’s divisions. This year’s Nationals will be held at Silver Lakes Sports Complex in California from October 14-16. “Nationals is quite a sight to see with the 5 fields of Australian Football happening at once. Spectators are always blown away because they don’t do anything like this in Australia. It’s quite an exciting and fun event to see,” James shares.
Growth for Australian Football here in the US comes down to education and word-of-mouth. “When people discover the sport, they typically find it really fun and enjoy the Australian comradery and culture. It is about helping people understand that it is a new, fun and unique sport that you may not have heard of. Our biggest recruiting tool is really word of mouth. Invite your friends and coworkers out to come try it!” James says. Many of USAFL’s clubs begin local leagues to expand the sport in their area.
Many Australian Football players were previously college athletes who are looking to continue to play a sport competitively. Mason Cox, a former Oklahoma State University basketball player, is now the first American to play professionally in the AFL in Australia. USAFL discovered him at a combine in 2014. Learn more about his success story at this video here. In women’s Australian Football, Dani Marshall is the first American woman to play professionally in the AFLW from USAFL’s Arizona Hawks club. Check out her story here.
USAFL and Tasmania have entered a partnership for USAFL’s 2022 season and 25th anniversary. Tasmania will serve as USAFL’s official partner for 2022, striving to raise Tasmania’s profile in the US market. “Tasmania is hoping to promote Australian businesses, trade and goods. We can help facilitate potential relationships here in our league where Tasmanian businesses can either expand or enter the market,” Doren says. Learn more about the monumental partnership here.
Those interested can reach out to us or check usafl.com if there is an existing club in your city. If so, you can follow the links to contact and connect with them there. If you don’t see a club, you can reach out to us at email@example.com and we can get you information on maybe a club that is getting started or help you start your own club.Doren James, Executive Director at USAFL
USAFL currently has an open RFP posted for the next 3 years on Playeasy. The organization is continuously looking to expand to find new Destination & Venue partners. Check them out here to learn more and see if you could be a future host!
For more information on Australian Football, how to get involved, and the USAFL, head to their Playeasy profile here.
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