AFL growing in western Sydney

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Over the past 12 months, we have been accustomed to seeing the Sydney print media making war analogies in describing the arrival of AFL’s 18th club, the GWS Giants to the New South Wales capital.

The Saturday Telegraph was at it again on the weekend, with no fewer than three pages dedicated to the “battleground” of Sydney’s west. In addition, the editorial focused on the issue, along with a separate story on women’s footy in western Sydney in another part of the paper.

That’s some serious coverage of the “war in Sydney’s heartland”.

However, it has to be said that the coverage was not entirely about raising the ire of the natives. Some good data was provided, as were some real stories.

In summary, the data shows that the AFL has made big inroads into Australia’s largest city over the last seven years at a grassroots level. By the same token, as one would expect, the numbers show that Australian Football is well behind rugby league as far as most metrics go.

The middle spread of “Inside Edition” has a map illustrating that 35 AFL grounds have been built in metropolitan Sydney over the past 10 years.

Focusing on western Sydney, Australian Football is now played by 258 schools in formal school competitions, around half as many as you will find playing rugby league.

School participants in Australian Football has grown from a low 1,460 in 2005 to now being 13,682 (compared to 21,137 school participants playing rugby league).

In terms of actual clubs, rugby league is well ahead, with 20 senior clubs and 97 junior clubs while there are only 28 Australian Football clubs in total (counting both senior and junior clubs).

The AFL matches the number development staff that league has in western Sydney, although a large number of the AFL staff are engaged on a casual basis.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to admire the great strides the AFL has made in getting young people to try Aussie Rules in a region where not too long ago, the game was barely known.

One area where the AFL appears to have stolen a march on the NRL, is with the participation of females in the game. There are 11 women’s clubs in the west compared to four women’s rugby league clubs.

There is a method to the madness here. Females make up 40 to 43 percent of all attendances, memberships and ratings the AFL.

The Telegraph editorial on Saturday makes a reference to the AFL’s willingness to plan for the next two decades, whereas NRL seems to plan season to season.

The editorial’s conclusion is refreshingly optimistic, and difficult to argue with: at the end of the day, it amounts to more footy for western Sydney, “and that can only be a good thing.”

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