An eighteen-a-side game played on an oval pitch of indeterminate size for the duration of four quarters of 25 minutes each. The aim is to kick the oval ball between centre posts or behind posts at the end of the pitch. The ball may be moved by any part of the player's body, whether it is kicked, handled, or held while running (if the latter, the ball must be periodically bounced); but the ball must not be thrown. The game is fast and can be violent, and it has prospered for more than a century and a half after its first documented staging, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It has drawn crowds of up to 120,000 for matches in the final stages of its major tournaments, often between Melbourne-based sides, and the fans comprise families, women as well as men, and straddle the ages. It was devised as a purely Australian game, though believed by some to be of Aboriginal origin, and derived in part from Gaelic football which was played by Irish troops, gold diggers, and immigrants. It has prospered most in the southern and western states of Australia, though it has developed a national profile beyond its traditional stronghold in and around Melbourne, becoming the most popular code in all states and territories except Queensland and New South Wales; six of the sixteen teams, by 2008, were from outside Melbourne, and since 1990 ten Grand Final champions were from outside of the city or area.
Spectators respond keenly to the pace of the game, its tough physical contests between players, the multiple skills demanded of the players, and the high scoring. Though the game is played professionally only in Australia, the Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final claimed, from 2005, to be the most highly attended club championship event in the world, dwarfing attendances for the USA Super Bowl and the European UEFA Champions League (UCL). This did not make the clubs or the AFL rich, though, as its media audiences were tiny compared to the aforementioned events with their much bigger national and global broadcast audiences. This has generated a developmental and policy dilemma for Australian Rules: how to expand its markets without losing its identity? One response has been to create encounters with Gaelic football sides, but any further dilution of the game would risk alienating its native and loyal audience base.
Subjects: Arts and Humanities.