Organisers of the country’s most remote and distance-challenged football league say the 2021 season is shaping up to be its best ever.
- The APY League was suspended in 2018 because of violence
- It returned in 2019, only to be axed again because of COVID-19
- Organisers say the 2021 season has been a triumphant return
Each weekend, teams make vast pilgrimages across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and parts of the Northern Territory to play in the APY League.
The SANFL’s Shawn Ford, who co-ordinates the APY League, said improvements made in 2019, including a new code of conduct and better communication with teams, were continuing to help prevent violence.
“This year is shaping up to be even better [than 2019],” Mr Ford said.
“We can actually get to games now and these guys know what they should be wearing and how they should be behaving. And things aren’t all higgledy piggledy — there are set times for games and all of those sorts of bits and pieces that flow with it.”
The league’s following has also increased since its return in 2021.
“The crowds during the week have been comparable to our most recent grand final in 2019,” Mr Ford said.
Expenses a growing challenge
AFL is enormously popular on the APY Lands and in Central Australia, and long, weekend round trips — sometimes of more than 1,000 kilometres — do not put players off.
“We had the Mutitjulu team play their first two games of the season as away games and they travelled the distance of Adelaide to Sydney for two away games in the first two weeks,” Mr Ford said.
The long-distance driving on unsealed roads is one factor that makes the APY League extremely costly to run.
“When we’re dealing with fuel costs out here they’re at $2.20 a litre,” Mr Ford said.
“It’s huge travel, huge commitment by the players, and something that we’re certainly appreciative of.”
Discovering remote talent
Like many outback competitions, the APY League harbours exceptional talent in its 10 teams.
“The potential out here is enormous, as you can imagine,” Mr Ford said.
“We’ve got a rep team heading down to Adelaide in early July. They’ll play on Adelaide oval.
“It’ll be under 18s, so the perfect age for the AFL to have a look at.”