Growing the game in the world's most populous Muslim country - An interview with Chris Bandy

Chris Bandy has been in the job as Head of Australian Football Development in Indonesia for a year, after an Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development grant allowed for the introduction of Australian Football into Indonesian Schools.
The initial results have been highly encouraging, and it is expected that a fully-functional junior competition will be set up in Jakarta next year. WFN recently interviewed Chris on his adventures in what is a challenging, but most interesting and rewarding environment.
WFN: Well Chris, what is you footy background and how did you get into this?
I am from Perth and have played football since I was six years old. I started with the Scarborough junior football club and moved on to the Marist junior football club where I finished my junior career. After that I moved to Claremont football club in the WAFL, played Colts for three years and seniors for two.
As one of those strange serendipitous things in life, through my university studies, I had to take a year off from football to participate in a student exchange program in Yogyakarta, Indonesia where I studied at an Indonesian university and taught English for a year.
It was during that time that the then coach of the Bintangs, Matt Stephens, contacted me to come and play with the team in Jakarta. From that moment I was a Bintang and was lucky enough to participate in the 2005 Asian Championships in Manila and that is still one of my fondest football memories.
Until you play football in Asia, and participate in an Asian Championships you really don’t appreciate the extent of the game here, and the passion possessed by the participants.
The Bintangs had previously had some reasonably successful, though piecemeal development programmes, and were looking to put a more formal programme in place. Whilst I was interested in this I had to return home and finish my university degree. The Bintangs hadn’t given up however, and when a role with the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) came up and the Bintangs nominated me as their preferred candidate, I accepted and here I am.
WFN: The Australia Indonesia Institute, Bintangs link, how did that come about?
Given that the largest Australian Embassy outside of Australia is based in Jakarta, there is no shortage of diplomats and aid workers that either play with or are associated with the football club. A proposal was developed by the Bintangs to the Australia Indonesia Institute (AII) for a grant to develop the game in Indonesian schools.
Whilst the full proposal was not approved the AII did accept a lesser proposal which included a grant and supported the club’s application for a full-time youth ambassador from Australia through the AYAD program.
WFN: What’s been done so far, where are we today?
The first thing we did, we were able to get on-side three Indonesian development coaches, Boy, Ardy and Rian, and with the help on these native Indonesians we have entered and conducted clinics in nearly 50 schools and had almost 6000 kids, boys and girls, exposed to the game. From this we have obtained a core group of between 200-300 children who regularly come to training at various grounds we’ve hired in the greater Jakarta area. Signs are promising for the establishment of a fully functioning schools based league by the end of next year.
Aside from the Indonesian component and Indonesian schools which comprises 90% of the work we undertake, we’ve also been involved in coaching an under 16 team from the British International School who play under the moniker of the ANZ Jakarta Bulldogs.
They recently travelled to Singapore with the senior team, where they won the inaugural Asian Under 16 Championships. Comprising players from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Indonesia, Finland and of course Australia, this is yet another way of expanding our game globally.
The only issue with these lads is they have do not have enough competition. Their enthusiasm is tremendous, they just need to be able to play more often and that is going to be one of our challenges.
We’re in the process of putting a new proposal to AII and it is hoped that we may be able to secure more funding from them for another year.
WFN:- I can imagine the challenges going into the Indonesian school system. How have you managed to penetrate that?
On the one hand Indonesian kids, boys and girls are screaming out for the opportunity to play sports. I believe sports and physical culture comes naturally to all kids on the planet. So getting kids interested is the least difficult part. The biggest challenge is the language barrier, however, due to my own extensive time in country and with the help of three full-time Indonesian Football Development Officers, this hasn’t been a major issue for us.
Moving forward, we will need to look at getting training material, videos, booklets etc printed or dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia, and that is one area for potential sponsorship.
Having said that, development of a junior competition isn’t difficult from a participation perspective, it is however from a monetary one as the majority of these kids are from poor socio-economic backgrounds and as a result there is a real opportunity for sponsorship, which given the way these kids take to the game, and the fact that they are the nation’s future, I am sure will be repaid in full many times over.
WFN: What about Auskick?
Auskick is a great thing but is more geared to the younger kids. Auskick has been taking place for over two years here with ex-pat kids but due to the transient nature of the ex-pat family, numbers have fluctuated. We’re hoping by next year with an increased emphasis on junior development, the next footy season produces a lot more national and foreign kids, enjoying Auskick and learning the game.
After our recent grand final function there was a lot of interest and it is hoped this transfers into solid participation for the club. Again this represents a great sponsorship opportunity.
WFN: And has it been fun? Where do you see it going?
For me, the greatest challenge and the greatest satisfaction has been getting something going from scratch I’ve had great support from the Bintangs and AII and without that we’d struggle to maintain any sort of programme. We are pleased with the success so far, but see it as a launching pad for a programme that I feel will not only be highly successful and beneficial in Indonesia but will also see our game grow internationally.
All we need is a chance to make this happen. We have the infrastructure in place, the people are willing and the programme will be pursued. Some committed sponsorship would definitely assist, and of course we would like to get both credibility and support from the AFL. Whilst I recognise the AFL is focused on getting things going in South Africa as a priority, let’s face it, Indonesia has a bigger population and is right on our doorstep.
My personal feelings at this point are ones of accomplishment but also anticipation for the future. If we maintain a positive mindset and realise the potential of this untapped market the future is unlimited
WFN: Within South East Asia the Bintangs have always been at the forefront of youth development. Most of the other countries are now starting Auskick and Junior programmes. What advice would you give them?
My advice is to have a crack. If you don’t give it a go you’ll never know what could’ve been. At least if you fail trying something you can’t die wondering. If you think there is even remote interest in a junior program, put out some feelers because I dare say there are plenty of blokes like me who’d jump at the chance to do what I do. Our vision is to use Australian football to promote health and fitness, self-esteem and give children the opportunity to play our great game and learn more about our culture.
Sport is a great leveller and there are no such things as class, poverty, social hierarchy etc and as a result, everyone is equal whether you’re from an international school or a poor third world country. It is what I love about our game, anyone can achieve greatness no matter your background. We’re just trying to give these kids a chance to experience a sport a lot of us grow up taking for granted.
WFN: Thank you very much, Chris and we will follow developments in Indonesia with interest. Hopefully, the other established clubs in Asia will pick up the cudgel and it won't be long before we will see international carnivals for Auskick and junior football playing a major role in the Asian Football Calendar.