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Spreading the game

BTV: Embracing India - Zaharakis' diary David Zahrakis speaks to BTV during the Embracing India trip. Watch the Embracing India documentary in full, 9:30pm Tuesday July 28, on Fox Footy.

It’s a country more commonly associated with cricket and hockey, but given its population if Aussie Rules can make even a small footprint on India’s sporting landscape, the benefits would be significant. 

Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett, Joe Daniher and David Zaharakis spent time in India over the off-season. 

The players embraced the culture of a land vastly different from the one they had grown up in.

They also spread the word about the game they know best.

“We did not expect to see the skills that they had,” Daniher said. 

“Obviously a few of them have seen a footy before, but a lot of them love soccer and I guess they have the kicking element but we were really surprised by the skills of both the boys and girls.” 

Foreign lands have produced many AFL footballers before but none from India.

“There’s 1.2 billion people here so we should be able to pluck one,” Heppell said.

“They’re so passionate about the game already and I reckon the more work we put into those areas the more passionate the kids get and the more people put into the game the more likely we’ll see someone playing the game.”

More than 40,000 Indian citizens applied to migrate to Australia in the 2013-14 financial year.

That’s well ahead of Chinese (27,000) and British (21,000) applications. 

Sabrina Gupta was a cultural advisor for the players trip to India and is an Associate Lecturer at LaTrobe University.

She thinks it’s only a matter of time before these numbers translate in to an Indian born AFL player.

“You look at the second generation, you can see a lot of those children are involved in footy,” she said.

“A lot of the kids have a footy team they support, in schools they wear the jerseys. You can see in the second generation the kids are open about it and enjoy it as well.

“Having an Indian player within the AFL would help grow the link with the Indian community here and also grow the game with AFL India. Promote the game in India; promote the game here in Australia. And not only within the Indian community, but seeing people from other migrant communities, you increase the exposure for other ethnic communities as well.”