Sunday, June 14, 2009 Aussie Rules finds favour in East Timor By Sara Everingham for AM A group of Australians has been trying to export Australian Rules football to East Timor, where players say the game gives local young men a chance to travel and access to jobs.
East Timor now has a fledgling local competition of three teams as well as a national side which flew to Darwin at the weekend for a play-off against Bali's AFL team.
The East Timor Crocs lost to the Bali Geckoes 51 to 34.
Former Army officer Luke Gosling is one of the founders of the Crocs and helped organise the game and found sponsors to help the players get to Darwin.
He says the game plays an important part in developing relations in the region.
"It's about strengthening regional friendships, I think, that's our main aim," he said.
"The more linked we are in the region the better, and Aussie Rules plays a part in that."
He says Aussie Rules has some advantages over soccer, which has been the dominant sport in East Timor.
"Soccer's the main game in East Timor, but we've had quite a few young Timorese come along and give Aussie Rules a go," he said.
"One of the bonuses in that is they get to practice their English, and they also get to mix socially with the expats that they might work with or that they're looking for work with."
Crocs player Romualdo Barreto says Australian Rules is allowing some young men in East Timor the opportunity to travel, regardless of whether or not they have been able to go to school.
"It's really benefits for children. Australia's our neighbour, most of our kids... some of them have been schooled, some of them not schooled. But they really like to have... Australian Rules football," he said.
But Mr Gosling says the contact sport also carries risks and in East Timor, injuries could be disastrous.
"The health infrastructure's only becoming able to cope a bit more now, and because the average daily wage is a dollar, there's not the ability for people to take advantage of the great hospital systems that we've got in Australia, the fantastic public health system that we've got," he said.
"We need to make sure that we're not breaking people, because that might be their livelihood."
Mr Gosling says he has made sure the East Timorese players in Darwin have been insured.
That is partly because most of the players in both teams are Australian.
"[The East Timorese players] are a lot more agile and quick, but I think everyone realises that it's fantastic that these guys are giving a game a go where there's guys three times as big as them, and they're still gutsy enough to get in and give it a go," he said.
"So we want to make sure that no-one gets injured, and no-one got injured today."
Mr Barreto says the size of the players is nothing to worry about.
"I believe I can do it. I believe my jump, I know how to run. So even [though] they're just big or tall, it doesn't matter for me," he said.
His biggest concern is that there is not enough money to buy equipment for all the children in his village who want to play Australian Rules.
He says for training, there sometimes are not even enough balls.