The Bogota Bulldogs in action.

A FORMER AFL star is playing a role in aiding the rapid growth of Australian rules football in a part of the world that might not be obvious to many followers of the game – the South American country of Colombia.

In 2024, Colombia has a national team that is dreaming of competing at its first-ever international competition and Sydney Swans champion Josh Kennedy is front and centre of the game’s evolution in the country. But, in order to make it to Canada for the event in a few months, support from the wider football community is required. More on that below.

First, how did we get here and what is the story behind footy in Colombia?

What started in 2015 as a casual kick in the park amongst friends, grew into a fully-fledged footy club, known as the Bogota Bulldogs, based in the country’s capital. The club was formed in response to a challenge from the Santiago Saints (Chile’s national team), to play an international Aussie rules match in 2016. The Bogota Bulldogs won that first ‘Andes Cup’ and haven’t looked back, with participation in the country growing year-on-year since.

Bogota Bulldogs players.

Eight years on, in January 2024, Kennedy officially launched AFL Colombia at the Australian Embassy in Bogota alongside the recently formed AFL Colombia board. Josh’s connection with the Colombian community began 12 years ago when he met his Colombian wife, Ana.

AFL Colombia now proudly boasts two leagues, one in Bogota and another over 400 kilometers away in the city of Medellin. Comprised of a mix of Australian and other international expats and Colombian locals, AFL Colombia has rolled out a number of school and community programs to introduce more kids and adults to the game.

As of 2024, AFL Colombia has over 300 registered players across men’s and women's domestic competitions, an outreach program in conflict impacted regions of the country and a scholarship program (the Orica Future Leaders program), which sent the first three Colombian players to Melbourne to play a season for local clubs and learn English.

The three scholarship winners - Estefanía Gualteros, Alejandro Susa and Óscar Marina – travelled to Melbourne earlier this year to play for the Darebin Falcons (Estefania) and Fitzroy Stars (Alejandro and Óscar) in the Northern Football Netball League and attend English classes provided by Discover English. The intention of this scholarship program is for the three recipients to return to Colombia with the skills and knowledge of how local footy is run in Australia to help to further develop the game in their home country.

Josh Kennedy with Colombian player and scholarship recipient Estefanía Gualteros after she played for Darebin Falcons in Melbourne.

Josh and his family are generously hosting one of the scholarship winners, Estefanía, and Josh has also been involved in coaching clinics both in Australia and Colombia.

"It's a great experience for them...Estefanía is living with us, with my family and children in Glen Iris, and the three of them are playing footy here on a team, working, and learning English," he told SBS in April. Click here to read the SBS article.

In an exciting first for the country, the men’s and women’s national team, the Jaguares, are preparing to attend the 2024 Transatlantic Cup in Toronto, Canada, as the first national team to represent Colombia in an AFL-sanctioned international competition. The Transatlantic Cup will run from August 2-11, 2024 at Humber College, Toronto. The other invited countries include Canada, USA and all affiliated AFL Europe Countries, with competing nations to be confirmed at a later date.

Josh Kennedy at the Australian Embassy in Bogota in January this year.

To assist the Jaguares in funding their participation in the Transatlantic Cup, they have set up a GoFundMe with a goal of raising $15,000 to cover the cost of player uniforms, accommodation and flights. Unlike their competition from North America and Europe, many of the Colombian players need to apply for passports for the first time, require Canadian visas, and are not in a position to pay their own costs for flights and accommodation. For almost every player, it will be the first time they have ever left their town or city, let alone the country.

A $50 donation can pay for one player’s uniform, whilst donations of $250 and $750 can help cover one player’s accommodation and return travel costs respectively. The team is currently at 40 per cent of their fundraising target, with booking deadlines fast approaching ahead of the tournament in early August.

Click here to visit the GoFundMe page.

A message from AFL Colombia:

AFL Colombia is volunteer run and has been proudly supported by Orica Colombia, the Australian Embassy in Colombia, and the Victorian Government. That support has allowed AFL Colombia to start an amazing scholarship program and outreach into vulnerable and conflict-affected communities in Colombia. But going to compete in Canada is not something the national team can do without further support. AFL Colombia is subsidising every player's trip with all of the resources we can muster by holding fundraisers, knocking on doors with sponsors and potential partners from government to the private sector, but it's still a huge ask...which is why we're also asking YOU!