AFL in India is flying again, with thousands of boots back on the track as football ramps up in the second most populous country in the world.
With Nationals still on the bench, AFL India have been rolling out State and Zonal Championships in order to crown the best teams across their active regions. Teams and players have been travelling far and wide by train and bus to get their first taste of football in a few years. The results are speaking for themselves.
In mid-January, the Football Association of Odisha, in conjunction with the Odisha Swans, successfully hosted their fifth annual State Championships of Australian Football at the Baripada Stadium. While ten senior teams and six junior teams turned out, Mayurbhanj District were too strong, taking out both the senior and junior divisions.
Towards the end of January, the Jharkhand Crows hosted their State Championships alongside the Jharkhand Football Association at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Dhurwa, with the Crows taking out both junior and senior titles.
The Bengal Tigers, in conjunction with the Footy Association of Bengal, also hosted their seventh annual West Bengal State Championships in January. The Tigers, like the Crows, took out both titles as hosts.
After all State Champions were decided, it was time to crown AFL India’s Zonal Champions. The East-North Zonal Championships, an accumulation of all teams from these states, was magnificently hosted by the Jharkhand Association of Football at the Morabadi Mandir Ground in Ranchi. The Bengal Tigers backed up their dominant State Championships display, taking out the senior division, while the Jharkhand Crows were too strong in the juniors, with the hosts taking out the title. Other teams that attended included the Bihar Bulldogs, the Odisha Swans, the Rajasthan Eagles and the Uttar Pradesh Hawks.
The South-West Zonal Championships was hosted only last weekend by the Telangana Saints at the Gymkhana Ground in Secunderabad, Telangana. With some fierce competition, the Maharashtra Giants took out the senior division, beating the hosts in the final. Other teams that attended included the Andra Pradesh Magpies, the Kerala Bombers and the Tamil Nadu Kangaroos.
Uniquely, every team that attended the event in Telangana had to travel at least six hours to attend, with the Bombers commuting over 20 hours just to get a taste of Australian football.
AFL is again thriving in India, and every association, team, player, volunteer, and the entire AFL India organisation needs to be applauded for their efforts. Could India challenge at the next International Cup?