Whether it's watching matches, playing on the field or supporting their favourite players, many migrants in Australia are embracing AFL. Reflecting our evolving population, AFL has become more multicultural with many new migrants taking up footy for a sense of belonging. These athletes often act as an inspiration and role model for their communities.
The AFL says up to a quarter of its players are from diverse backgrounds. Joseph La Posta is the AFL´s state manager for NSW and ACT and in charge of partnerships, diversity and major projects. He says the game is an Australian invention.
The AFL says up to a quarter of its players are from diverse backgrounds
"I think, one of the important things to acknowledge is that the AFL is probably the only truly indigenous game that was made by Australians for Australians. It's a game that originated through a guy called Tom Wills to become the winter sport for Cricketers in Victoria. And that quickly spread throughout the colonies across South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania."
Diego Ghirardi is an Italian-Australian who fell in love with footy immediately.
AFL creates a close sense of community
"From day one I was here I went watching my first game, first day I was here in Australia. Since then, I pretty much fell in love the AFL and I am having some joy and some pain with that."
Diego writes about AFL in Italian online and has also called a game in his language. He says the game brings the community together.
"Two things: First thing that I really enjoyed was the atmosphere. I went watching my first game without knowing any rules and any team or anything. And I started chatting with people and I thought really straight away that sort of community. And that was really, really good for me as a new immigrant to the country, finding a way to communicate and a way to feel a bit at home. And then, the sport is really exciting, lots of things happening, it´s very fast, it´s very athletic and very entertaining."
When you go to the footy everybody is together, you see families, you see kids, it's very community kind of sport
Diego Ghirardi believes AFL creates a close sense of community.
"Especially in the soccer sometimes bad things happen and supporters from different teams are separated. And when you go to the footy everybody is together, you see families, you see kids with other colours of teams. It´s a very community kind of sport, and that´s very nice, I really love that."
The most thing I like about the football, I mean you can run, you can handball, you can do it with your feet
Avtar Singh is of Punjabi heritage and considers himself "obsessed" with the sport. He runs a youth program with the Essendon Football Club for kids of Indian backgrounds.
"The most thing I like about the football, I mean you can run, you can handball, you can do it with your feet, it´s pretty much your whole body. You have to be very, very super-athletic to play this game and that fascinates me, how strong this people are and how hard they train. And that´s kind of inspiration for me."
AFL says they're focused on building relationships with diverse communities
AFL's Joseph La Posta says they're focused on building relationships with diverse communities.
"Right now we are at a very exciting point I think where we really, really matured and understood that if we are to be truly an Australian game and succeed with all communities, that we have to have increased energies in working with communities to create programs and really promote inclusion in that space as well."
This includes a number of school programs, particularly for new and emerging migrant Australians
"What we are seeing in some locations, places where we have high settlements of new refugees and migrants, by using AFL as a vehicle in partnership with the local council and the local community clubs down there, we are actually seeing a lot of the issues around social isolation being reversed by virtue of the fact that these kids, regardless of what background that they have come from all have that common element and that common thread of playing in the same community football club."
One of the game's rising stars migrated from India in 2008
One of the game's rising stars migrated from India in 2008. Dilpreet Singh never played sports but soon after arriving he joined Geelong Falcons. He says his community have accepted and embraced his sporting achievements.
"When I won the Rising Star award that was just an unbelievable experience for me. And then a year later I won Goal of the Year. This journey has just been amazing and the support that I have received from my community or any other communities is just amazing. And people have actually supported me throughout this and they are still supporting me."
He wants to spread his passion for footy amongst the Indian community
Dilpreet was the "Face of the Multicultural Round" in 2014 and expects to be drafted into the AFL. He wants to spread his passion for footy amongst the Indian community.
"I am in touch with them, they do invite me to their for example our temple, spread the word. And, because we do have a little kids football club running and we are also planning a few more where we can actually make people more aware about the footy. And let´s just take that fear out of the parents. If they can let their kids to play. Because I believe, you know, we are living in Australia and for us Australia´s game and supporting their games, supporting their culture is really important for us."
The diverse nature of the game is attracting more fans
Footy fan Avtar Singh says the diverse nature of the game is attracting more fans like him.
"I think it's getting more multicultural. Now you can have different nationalities, you know people like Chinese, Indians even Africans are playing AFL at the moment at a big level. You know if one person from a community performs well people then start following that person and you get a very good chance, you get a exploder, they can look at him how well he is doing and that´s how people start following the game."
The popularity of AFL continues to grow amongst new communities, with players like Sydney Swans' Aliir Aliir who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp to Sudanese parents.
Discover more about the AFL Multicultural Program.