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Cricket could be key as AFL plans India foray

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I can definitely see a game being played for premiership points on the horizon
AFL GM of China and India David Stevenson

THE AFL will look to use cricket as a way to connect and engage with Indian sports fans, as the League prepares to expand the game into the world's second most populated country as soon as 2020.

In March, AFL general manager of China and India David Stevenson travelled to India on a fact-finding mission with officials from Richmond, Adelaide, Essendon and GWS.

India is home to around 1.3 billion people, while more than 700,000 people with Indian descent live in Australia.

Richmond and GWS have been pushing since last year to play a premiership game in Mumbai, while Essendon and Adelaide have been investigating playing a pre-season or exhibition game on the subcontinent.

The AFL has already successfully played an AFL game for premiership points in China, with Port Adelaide and Gold Coast paving the way last year.

Stevenson told a foray into India wouldn't happen in 2019, with the first game more than likely to be a pre-season or exhibition match.

"I can definitely see a game being played for premiership points on the horizon," Stevenson said.

"But it's still a long way to go, so I think having a JLT Community Series or AFLX game first to get clubs comfortable with it is the way to go.

"That's how it was with China, we had the exhibition game in 2010, I know it was seven years apart until we played a season proper game, and it won't be that far apart this time.

"But it will give people confidence that it can work well and can be a good experience before you make it a regular season game."

Education and creating awareness will be key to the AFL's bold plan to move into the subcontinent.

Stevenson said it was vital the League found a way to forge a connection between the Indian people and football, and cricket could very well be the key.

"I think establishing a connection to cricket is powerful," Stevenson said.

"We've got the Indian team on a tour this summer, I think that will provide some opportunities for us to look at. Once you explain to people over there that AFL was developed as a sport as a training game for cricketers, and you see IPL teams warming up with AFL balls then all of a sudden it became authentic."

The trip in March was deemed a success with all four clubs still very much interested in being involved in expanding the game into India.

One of the main concerns for the four clubs was the possibility of players being struck down with illness.

However, they have since been put at ease.

"In their own words, the clubs were more optimistic at the end of the trip than they were at the start of the trip, partly because the health fears were allayed," Stevenson said.

"We met with a guy who's the head physio at IPL team Rajasthan Royals. He spent eight years on Team India and said he could count on one hand the amount of lost days that they've had to sickness in the 10 years of the IPL. So that made the clubs feel comfortable, that there wasn't a big risk."

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