Richmond AFL club eyes massive growth within Australian Indian community

Now it’s a family affair, even though they support different teams. Asthana and her Kangaroos supporter husband Ajay have a teenage daughter, Diya, who completed Carlton’s Adam Saad Academy development program and now plays for junior football club Kew Comets in the eastern suburbs.

“Everyone has his own; what they like,” she says. “It’s still a family thing.”

Untapped potential

Commercial sports such as the AFL have long looked to migrant communities as a source of potential fans and talent. The 2021 census figures show they would be crazy not to. More than a quarter of the population was born overseas and India, with 673,352 people, has now overtaken China and New Zealand to become the third country of birth after Australia and England.

In Victoria, the trend is even stronger than in any other state or territory. Indian-born Victorians make up 4% of the state’s population, the second largest cohort after Australian-born Victorians.

Richmond travel to the MCG on Sunday in a game against the Brisbane Lions as the Melbourne side mark their play ‘of many cultures’. On the same day, he will launch a plan to deepen his engagement among Melbourne’s diverse and growing ethnic communities.

“The face of people in Australia has changed dramatically and will continue to do so,” said Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale.

“We are a better club for the diversity we have inside our four walls – we have to make sure that is reflected outside.”

Marking diversity: The Tigers take on the Brisbane Lions this weekend in a match that Richmond has dubbed its Many Cultures match. Getty Images

It makes economic and social sense, says Asthana.

“You have more bums sitting in stadiums, you sell more merchandise,” she says.

“It also makes sense from the perspective of more social issues – they want to connect to communities. Multicultural communities make up a large part of the population. We have to include them.

The proposal is tempting. But this is a long-term project and various clubs have made efforts, with varying degrees of success, to tap into the diaspora over the years.

Asthana is now an adviser to AFL Victoria’s South East Commission, overseeing the game’s community development and is also a member of Sport Australia’s Sport Volunteer Coalition, which works to increase participation in the sport. She says building community support among new migrant communities is a long game.

You have more bums sitting in stadiums, you sell more goods. It also makes sense from the perspective of more social issues.

— Richmond Ambassador Molina Asthana on Diversity

“It has to be family-oriented,” she says. “For the Indians, it’s not about an individual. The whole family gets involved. It’s not a game they grew up with. A lot of them grew up with cricket or football, so it’s easy to sell. The AFL is not.

Avi Singh knows this experience. As a child, he was not allowed to play football because his parents thought it was too hard.

Last week, Singh, now a multicultural development officer at Melbourne Football Club, held the first session at Casey Fields – a community sports complex 50 kilometers southeast of Melbourne’s CBD – of the South East Multicultural Auskick Centre, a program six-week introductory course. for children who have never held Sherrin and their parents.

The course teaches how to hit, score and play handball and aims to be fun. There were 51 children of Chinese, Indian and Afghan descent last week. The parents came to attend the session which lasted an hour.

“We’re doing something to make sure that kids like me – whose parents were born overseas – also follow this path,” Singh says. “We want to make sure parents stay involved as much as possible. Without parents, we cannot have children.

International dreams

Dreams of internationalizing the sport have prompted AFL clubs to stage exhibition matches in China, but not yet in India. The opportunity is great, however.

India came third in the medal standings of the Commonwealth Games Gold Coast 2018. But with a delegation of 205 athletes at the Birmingham Games which opened on Thursday, compared to 325 in Gold Coast, the country is unlikely to be as efficient.

The combined market for sports media rights, apparel, supplements and equipment in the world’s largest democracy could grow fourfold to $100 billion ($142 billion) by 2027, from $27 billion in 2020, according to a recent report.

Clubs including Richmond are considering it, having already toured the country and inspected potential stadiums for a game. But the pandemic, along with safety and cost considerations, put all plans on hold.

“As we get out of this, we’ll start exploring the opportunity again,” says Simon Matthews, Richmond’s chief marketing officer.

Asthana says any offshore strategy will require the strategic support of the AFL itself, but that a strong footing among the Australian Indian population will also be crucial to any success in the subcontinent.

“There are definitely benefits to working with the diaspora, locally and internationally,” she says. “If they want to take the game internationally, the growing diaspora is the best way to do it.”

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