The Australian Football League (AFL) proudly announced a new partnership with the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports program earlier today.
The partnership will strengthen the existing pathway between Pacific Island nations, (Fiji, Nauru and Papua New Guinea) and the AFL by offering opportunities for promising young players to access targeted training programs in their home country as well as regional competitions, in addition to training with the Gold Coast SUNS or Brisbane Lions Academies. Coaching and umpire mentoring programs will also be available.
The Pacific Islands recently celebrated their first player from a development pathway in the region to debut in the AFL, with Papua New Guinean Hewego Oea playing for the Gold Coast SUNS. Since making a sensational debut in Round 16 of the AFL, Oea has played three AFL games. Program Ambassador Zimmorlei Farquharson of Papua New Guinea, had an incredible debut 2022 season for the Brisbane Lions where she was rewarded with a 2022 AFLW Rising Star nomination.
“I strongly believe this to be an important partnership that will provide opportunities and choices for young Islanders,” Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellency Mr John Ma’o Kali added. “Not only are we going to encourage more Aces (boys) and Graces (girls) to play AFL, it will help strengthen bilateral relations between Australia and the neighbouring Pacific Island Nations in the long haul.”
Nauru High Commissioner to Australia, Her Excellency Ms Camilla Solomon, noted the partnerships significance in Nauru given AFL’s popularity for both girls and boys. “Our young footballers will have a clearer and more structured pathway. It will also open up opportunities for them to gain scholarships and experiences with the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns academies. Greater opportunities, clearer pathway to the AFL, quality academy training programs and ultimately a chance to showcase Nauru’s exciting brand of football to the world,” she said.
The new partnership was fittingly announced at the AFL’s Round 19 match, QClash23, between the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast SUNS at the Gabba. Both teams’ academies will play an important part in bolstering the next generation of Aussies Rules talent to come through the Pacific Islands.
Fiji Charge de Affairs and Acting High Commissioner to Australia, Ms Farisha Ali, remarked on the special bonds that sports create. “Through the work of the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports program both Fiji and Australia will be able to create the ideal environment to make sure that both our countries benefit from future sporting engagements,” she said. “We hope sometime in the future AFL and other competitive matches will also be hosted in Fiji.”
AFL’s Executive General Manager – Game Development, Rob Auld said the new partnership would be instrumental in further strengthening the Australian Football pathway from the Pacific Islands to Queensland.
“On behalf of the AFL, I would like to thank the Australian Government, through the PacificAus Sports partnership, for their continued support in growing our game across the Pacific Islands,” he said.
“Our focus is to execute a sustainable, high-performance pathway from fostering talent locally through to delivering talent with elite pacific players competing in Australia.
“We have recently seen the amazing story of Hewego and his journey from Papua New Guinea to Metricon Stadium and we believe we have even more talent to uncover in the Pacific Islands.”
Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon. Pat Conroy MP, said that this was an exciting new partnership to support the sporting ambitions of Pacific athletes.
“Aussie rules is a uniquely Australian sport and it is wonderful to see our Pacific family sharing our love of the game. Programs like this strengthen Australia’s already deep connection with the Pacific and continue to sustain our friendships on and off the sporting field.”
The Australian Government also supports the AFL Plei Footy Blo Jenis (Play Footy For Change) program in Vanuatu which focuses on improving gender equality and health outcomes in Vanuatu communities.
The AFL would also like to extend their most sincere thanks to the PNG Sports Foundation, Fiji National Sports Commission, Vanuatu National Sports Commission, and the Nauru Government for their integral and continued support of all AFL programs in each country.