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Milwaukee Bombers arrow Media arrow Spotlight arrow The Sports Factor Radio Interview
The Sports Factor Radio Interview
Now the United States Australian Football League only began in 1997 with eight teams. The league now has 35 teams across the country, and they expect to get to 40 by the end of the year. Their clubs have names like the Nashville Kangaroos, the New York Magpies and the Chicago Swans.

Radio Nationals' The Sports Factor with Amanda Smith

Aussie Rules Global Gaze

Interview took place on May 7, 2001

Now the United States Australian Football League only began in 1997 with eight teams. The league now has 35 teams across the country, and they expect to get to 40 by the end of the year. Their clubs have names like the Nashville Kangaroos, the New York Magpies and the Chicago Swans. Paul O’Keefe is an Australian who’s been based for the last ten years in Milwaukee, home of the Milwaukee Bombers. And Paul is the founding President of the USAFL. So what attracts Americans, who surely enough sports of their own, to Australian Football?

Paul O'Keefe: Well the funny thing about American sports the whole system is designed to develop very few elite athletes. If you think of basketball, we all know the NBA. The whole system here is from high school through to colleges through to the professional leagues, is all designed to develop those top 100 players. So there's a lot of great athletes who finish high school and never play competitive sports again, or finish college and never play competitive sports again, and so there really is this niche to get people involved who want to play just for the fun of it. And in Australia we have a very participatory sports culture, where over here isn’t.

Amanda Smith: What sort of first impressions do Americans have of Australian Football?

Paul O'Keefe: The biggest thing that the Americans notice is the goal umpire, that’s the funniest thing. They always talk about showing the two fingers and the flags, and the guy with the lab coat. The other comment you get is, ‘Well it’s football without pads’, and that’s mainly because they don’t understand sort of the nature of the sport. What we find is when we actually get guys coming out and playing, that they run around the first quarter, having no idea what’s going on, the first time they get the ball they usually throw it because they want to get rid of it as quickly as they can, and then they actually pick it up pretty quickly after that. And once they’ve played a couple of games that we usually don’t lose that many players, they really like it and stick it out.

Amanda Smith: Well if it’s true that an indigenous football code reflects something of the character of the people and the country in which it’s been created, you’d have to say that Australian Football displays a kind of anarchy, and a high-flying physicality, and a love of wide open spaces, whereas American Football, while it’s pretty brutal and physical, is much more controlled and grounded and grid-like, with players padded and helmeted. Has Aussie Rules developed in the United States with any kind of local American flavour?

Paul O'Keefe: One of the things that’s interesting about American sports is most American sports have the hero, you know, the quarterback or the pitcher, you know, the guy that dunks the ball; you don’t really have that so much in Australian Football, you could say maybe the full-forward, but certainly not at our level. And they’ve actually taken to it pretty well, that’s one of the things that hurt soccer, was that there wasn’t a hero player. But soccer didn’t score enough for the Americans. So I think we’re OK because the amount of scoring in footy really keeps them interested.

Amanda Smith: Well you’ll be aware of the establishment of a new organisation, the International Australian Football Confederation that’s attempting to take charge of the development of footy outside of Australia, although the Australian Football League sees itself as custodian of the game internationally as well as domestically; where do you and US Footy sit in this kind of battle for control?

Paul O'Keefe: We’re actually supporting the AFL strongly, we’re not supporting the new Confederation. We think that now that the original AFC’s aim has been achieved, it’s now the time to work together. We spend too much time as volunteers to power battles, we don’t have time for that; now's the time to really get down to do some work. Let’s work together, there’s a lot of passionate people around the world, and it’s really amazing to me that if you look at what’s been happening in Canada and Britain, Denmark and places like that, I think there’s this real groundswell of Aussie Rules across the world which is coming from the grassroots and we can’t lose that opportunity. And it behoves the AFL to continue to do a good job, and we definitely pride ourselves on over the years of pushing AFL to sort of sit up and spend time with us. And they’ve done that and we want to repay that back to them now.

Amanda Smith: Paul O'Keefe, the founding President of the United States Australian Football League.

 

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