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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday he had not received "anything.

Date: 12-10-2019
Subject: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday he had not received "anything
“Look, this ball is so different. It is not round but oval,” a young student was heard telling his friend as we entered Angrail Vidyamandir High School before Team Bengal took on Team Odisha in a nail-biting match. It was well past noon and hundreds of children thronged the school ground with wide-eyed wonder as players warmed up with the oval ball. A school known to encourage students to participate in sports, especially football, has now embraced a new athletic activity — Australian Rules Football or footy in common language. Teachers, students, non-teaching staff members and locals gathered to witness the Bengal-Odisha and other exhibition matches that took place in presence of Australian Consul General Andrew Ford recently in Angrail.

What is this sport anyway?

At the very outset, Australian Rules Football looks pretty much like rugby. But it is not the same. Footy is a similar sport played between two teams of 18 players on an oval-shaped field, with an oval shaped ball —slightly bigger than a rugby ball. While explaining the sport, Sudeep Chakraborty, a representative of Australian Rules Football Association of India (ARFAI), said, “This sport gives the taste of four games — it has ball-dropping like basketball, hand passing like volleyball, kicks like football and you need strength like rugby. I studied in this school and I wanted the younger generation to learn this sport.” In footy, points are scored by kicking the oval-shaped ball between goal posts or between behind posts. Andrew, who spent his childhood playing footy, explained the scores while watching one of the exhibition matches, “If you score a goal, your team earns six points. If you can put the ball through those posts, you score one point. You really want to score that six points rather than one point. That makes more sense.”

An excited CG

By his own admission, the Aussie CG is extremely excited about footy. “Growing up in Melbourne, every young man plays this sport — in the primary school and then the high school playgrounds. My brother, Colin, and I used to play footy. He is in the US now but we still play when we get together,” he said. Footy is more popular in the southern states of Australia. “It is very common in Victoria. You get huge crowd in winter. Melbourne Cricket Ground is an important field for cricket, but it is an even more popular footy ground in Australia,” Andrew added. 

A fun day at the school

The energy around the school was electrifying. With the exhibition matches between teams from Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, the school has also decided to take part in Play Footy — an initiative to train schoolkids in this sport. Headmaster of the school, Subodh Kumar Basu, said, “We have a legacy of participation in sports. Due to their physical capability, a number of students also got a chance in defence. Rakesh (Rakesh Ghosh, a player who represented India in footy) is an ex-student. He came to us for cooperation. I have a playground and a bunch of enthusiastic children, so I agreed. While the students will have simple training during school time, they will be able to practise more after the school hours.” Rakesh, meanwhile, is pretty enthusiastic about taking the sport to the other corners of the country. “There are about 10 states, including, Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and others, who have started taking up this sport. Meanwhile, in Bengal, footy has started in 24 Parganas, Howrah, Midnapore, Jhargram, Purulia, Murshidabad and other districts. People are showing a lot of interest.”

Future plans of expanssion

The Australian CG too watched the matches with keen interest before kick-starting the programme, Play Footy. “These guys (the players) are quite keen on football already. Sudip, Rakesh and others have been playing this for more than 10 years. Now these guys are promoting it with the help of Australian Football League. Many countries are taking up this sport. Today’s event is an Australian-government initiative. The funding came from small grants programmes of the High Commission. The idea was to do demonstration matches. Then they will be launching the programme. It will reach out to several other corners in India,” Andrew said, adding, “Here, people are interested in this game at the grassroots level. The dream will be to host the game in Salt Lake Stadium. We have to be realistic about it though. It will be hard to attract a big crowd.”

The ball is made from leather and forms an oval shape (similar to a rugby ball). Each team consists of 18 players — all assigned to different positions.

The object of the game is to kick the ball between a series of four goal posts. A goal gives a team six points and if one can put the ball through the posts, a team scores one point.

There are seven umpires for Aussie Rules in total. The three main umpires in the field oversee all the decisions, like time keeping, infringements and enforcing the rules. The two line judges are there to see if the ball goes out of play or not. The last two umpires are goal umpires and it is their job to signal if a goal has been scored successfully or not.

It is one of those pinch-yourself moments: Andrew Ford

It was early this year when Australian Consulate started operating in Kolkata. Andrew Ford joined as the Consul General and it took him more than a couple of months to get a chance to see the real rural Bengal. “I went to north Bengal though. I took a flight to Bagdogra. But I have never seen the south Bengal countryside. This is my first,” he told us, as we embarked on a journey to Angrail, Bongaon, South 24 Parganas. From Kolkata Police to the cops from the Bengal area took turns to escort the convoy all through the journey. 

Halting for a cup of bhnarer cha et al were part of the itinerary. After quickly refuelling near the airport, his first teabreak was in Habra. “I’m not new to this roadside chai. I see them all the time on my way to work. However, these cups are fancier,” he said as he took his first sip. 

Our destination was Angrail. However, Andrew could not resist the temptation to see the Bangladesh border. As he stood by the Ichamati near Garjala village, the afternoon prayer from the other side of river floated in. “The landscapes are so similar,” he said, adding, “When I was young, I, not for a moment, thought that I would be promoting footy in the border area of India and Bangladesh. This is one of those pinch-yourself moments in my life. Here, I am with a sport I love representing my country in and promoting among people for whom the sport is very new,” he said.

After catching a glimpse of the lush green landscape of 24 Parganas, Andrew was floored. “Bengal’s countryside is really beautiful. The farms and forest lands here are very soothing,” said the mesmerised CG.

Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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