By Chris McAsey

We’re at a team bonding event at the MCG on a wintry Friday night, watching the Melbourne Demons take on the Brisbane Lions.

No one in our team supports either club, but we’re not casual observers. Our team develops and manages the AFL Live Official App, and we keep one eye on live vision, scores and stats as they update in the app.

One of our team though, is not sitting on the fence.

‘Come on Melbourrrrne!’

I look around to see who has taken sides for the night. It’s Rajbir, our test analyst, who in a short space of time has become a pivotal member of the project team.

I’ve already experienced what Rabjir calls her ‘stubbornness’ – others might call it courage and a willingness to challenge convention – during a demanding project to rebuild the AFL Live App.

When she arrived in Australia a few months earlier, Rajbir had never heard of AFL. Understanding the finer points of the game wasn’t a requirement for her role to troubleshoot functional and technical issues during the app’s development.

But she soon sensed the level of passion and commitment of AFL fans, including many of her colleagues in the project team.

‘I started to understand pretty quickly how important AFL is to people in Australia and how passionate they are about the game,’ Rajbir says.

‘It’s similar with cricket in India. And I had started to follow Western Bulldogs, who were the club from the area I was living in Melbourne.’

Fast forward six years. Rajbir is now a key player in AFL Digital and in promoting the game as an AFL radio commentator and TV panellist.

It’s an unlikely path for a girl who grew up in a small town in the Punjab, northwest India.

Rajbir grew up in Bassi Pathana, Punjab state.

‘My father was a farmer,’ Rajbir says. ‘He actually had two jobs, one as a farmer and a government job as a clerk.

‘My parents would wake at four in the morning, do the milking and then get food ready for us for school.

‘They worked really hard.’

Rajbir says she was ‘very fortunate’ to finish school and study engineering at college. But there were other qualities that played a part in her achievements.

‘I think I was a stubborn child,’ she says. ‘I was very focused about wanting to study and to make something of my life.’

After completing her engineering studies, Rajbir’s next challenge was to convince her father to let her move interstate for a job with Cognizant Technology.

‘My father is quite conventional,’ Rajbir explains. ‘There was a lot of resistance to me moving away from home.

‘I didn’t eat for two days to convince him!’

After five years with Cognizant in Pune and marriage to husband Jasvinder, Rajbir transferred to Hong Kong for two years, before applying for residency in Australia.

As fate would have it, Cognizant had been contracted by AFL Digital rights holder Telstra to carry out quality assurance for the app project.

Rajbir says she was ‘in the right place, at the right time’ to be assigned onto the AFL project.

But her technical knowledge and willingness to champion the fan experience soon made an impact on the project.

With the AFL season looming and tight timelines, Rajbir stood firm under pressure from senior members of the development team to cut corners.

‘I was scared, to be honest,’ she says. ‘I was adjusting to the culture and understanding expectations was the biggest challenge for me.

‘I was just focused on delivering the best product.’

With the app finally launched and the season underway, Rajbir discovered that AFL helped her connect with people and Australian culture.

‘I saw people using our mobile app on trains and where I played table tennis,’ she recalls.

‘It connected me with people here. I felt really proud and happy to see people smiling when they were using the app.’

With a growing interest in the game, she attended an event at Essendon Football Club to raise funds for the AFL national championships in India. It was there she met Harbir Singh, who was doing live radio commentary in Hindi for the AFL.

Rajbir broadcasting from the MCG with Harbir Singh

‘I was configuring live radio streams for the AFL app so I knew there was some Hindi commentary,’ Rajbir says.

‘I got talking to Harbir at the event and mentioned I was working on the AFL app.’

Three years later, Harbir contacted Rajbir out of the blue when another commentator was unavailable.

‘He said, “Would you be able to do it?” Rajbir recalls. ‘I had zero experience in commentary or the media.

‘I thought about it for a while and then I messaged him, “Yes, I would love to.”

‘It was one of those moments when you say yes and then think, “How am I actually going to do this?”

While she understood the rules and some nuances of the game, Rajbir says she prepared thoroughly for her first game.

‘I started to learn more about the stats and players, which is probably the hardest job,’ she says.

‘There are 36 players on the ground and it’s hard to see their number when they’re over the far side.

‘Sometimes you can only identify them by their hair!’

After a series of firsts, including broadcasting the first non-English commentary of an AFLW game, Rajbir’s next big challenge came in 2022, when she was offered a TV role as a panellist on the Multicultural AFL Show.

Rajbir Ghuman (second from left) on the Multicultural AFL Show panel, alongside Harbir Singh, Liz Honey and George Grosios.

‘I had never been on camera before,’ Rajbir says. ‘I’m a shy person, so TV was next level.

‘Communicating in English for the show was a challenge in itself, especially in Australia where so much slang is used.

‘I still have a lot to learn, but I decided I just had to show my passion for the game.’

These days, Rajbir is a committed supporter of the Western Bulldogs, whose CEO Ameet Bains is also of Punjabi heritage.

She has grown to love many aspects of the game, but it’s the intensity and sporting culture that she admires most.

‘I love the tempo and intensity of the game,’ Rajbir says. ‘And the fact that no matter how hard the players are on the field with tackling and aggression, when the final siren goes, they hug each other.

‘I love that the players talk as if they are friends, even if they were pushing and shoving each other during the game.’

With close to 800,000 Indians now calling Australia home, a growing number are participating in AFL and supporting their favourite club, including Rajbir and Jasvinder’s young son, Rihaan.

‘Oh yes, of course he’s a Bulldogs supporter, he doesn’t have any choice!’ Rajbir confirms.

‘He’s been to a couple of games at Marvel Stadium when I was commentating.

‘He slept through the second half of the match with Bombers fans cheering and screaming all around him!’

In her limited free time, Rajbir likes to unwind by doing anti-gravity yoga, which involves stretching and strength work while hanging upside down in a sling.

It’s not a pastime for the faint hearted, but it seems to perfectly sum up Rajbir’s new life down under.