Players from the slums of Mumbai, middle class Indian teenagers and affluent uni students will don AFL jerseys and boots next month in the first national Australian football competition to be played in India.
The tournament comes after a three-year campaign by AFL India to promote the sport and combines the work of Global Community Sports and Reclink Australia to introduce the game at the grass roots level, with patronage from Steve Waugh and sponsorship from Perth-based Oil and Gas Mining Institute and Australia Unlimited.
"It’s a dream come true,’" said Sudip Chakraborty, president of AFL India.
"It’s a small but important step to creating widespread interest in the game and a bigger all-India league."
The competition will be played in the southern Indian city of Kozhikode over two days in December, culminating in a Grand Final on Sunday December 2.
Teams from the cities of Madurai, Kozhikode and Mumbai will participate in the event, wearing the colours of AFL teams North Melbourne, Greater Western Sydney, Geelong, Essendon and Richmond.
Lincoln Harris, India coordinator for Reclink Australia said for the players, the tournament provides opportunities they could only have dreamed of such as travelling interstate, mixing with people of different backgrounds and being pioneers of a new sport.
"The tournament is as much about footy as it is the individual and social benefits that come with being part of a team,’" said Harris.
"Aussie rules is a great leveller, but it also empowers people."
Harris' Mumbai teams, brought together by his love of the game and experience seeing Reclink Australia draw people together, will travel 1,200 kilometres by overnight train to reach the tournament.
Reclink Australia is a charitable organisation whose mission is to provide sporting activities to enhance the lives of people experiencing disadvantage.
Madurai team coordinator Rick Shrowder, whose company Global Community Sports runs a program that captures and shares the experiences of young people being introduced to Aussie Rules, says the game could easily win over players in India, both male and female.
"Australian football requires very little equipment which makes it ideal for small communities with limited resources – we've seen this with soccer’s success in Africa. The fast paced, high scoring nature of the game also make it popular with all age groups,’" he said.
The tournament will include training sessions for players and umpires, as many as 10 games played in a round-robin format over 2 days and a Grand Final.
AFL India's Chakraborty -- who is also captain of the national team, the Indian Tigers -- sees the tournament as a way to raise awareness about sports other than cricket and hopes participation can expand to eight states, a regular national competition and school programs within five years.
Apart from the short-term prospect of being crowned national champions, players will be appraised for selection to the Indian Tigers to play in the next AFL International Cup, along with the opportunity for one participant to travel to Australia for a footy exchange program.
With so much to play for there is sure to be true Grand Final atmosphere on the day.