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Muslim women build cultural understanding of Australia through AFL training in Indonesia

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After watching a taped Aussie Rules football match on TV from her home in Indonesia, Siti Nurbaeti became interested in the sport.

“The shape of the ball isn’t even round, it would…a weird bounce,” Ms Nurbaeti said.

She also thought Australian rules football looked “very difficult”, so she grew concerned when a friend asked her to join an AFL training clinic in Central Java.

“It turned out to be quite fun,” Ms. Nurbaeti said.

“I learned to kick and pass the ball.”

Siti Nurbaeti is one of many young Indonesian Muslim women learning Aussie Rules football. (Provided)

The 19-year-old student is one of a growing number of women in Indonesia who are picking up a football not just to get in shape, but also to try to better understand Australian culture.

“I want to keep playing football and I hope to have the opportunity to play in Australia,” she said.

According to AFL Asia, there has been “a huge increase in female participation” in the sport in Jakarta and Bali over the past two years.

AFL Asia also reported a 99% increase in development program participation across Indonesia from 2020 to 2021, despite pandemic challenges that have slowed growth in other Asian countries.

This jump in Indonesia is attributed to the growing popularity of mixed national teams, such as the Jakarta Bintangs and the Bali Geckos.

AFL Asia Data Photo
AFL Asia operates AFL development programs in many Asian countries. (Provided)

“I felt welcomed and enjoyed the game”

The AFL in Indonesia will be one of the topics discussed at a seminar on sports diplomacy and Australia-Indonesia relations hosted by Monash University today.

Among the speakers at the seminar is Indonesia’s first AFL-accredited female coach, Ana Surjanto, who will share her experiences on coaching women’s football.

Ms. Surjanto has educated hundreds of young Muslim women like Ms. Nurbaeti, both from her university and other Islamic boarding schools in Central Java.

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“They usually have free time at the weekends, and I want them to understand this Australian culture,” she said.

She recently resumed her training courses in Indonesia after a hiatus due to the pandemic.

Ms Surjanto was exposed to football when she studied at Monash University in Victoria in 2016.

“I wanted to be active in sport and I saw that Melburnians really liked footy,” she said.

She contacted the Krakatoas Football Club, whose members are mostly Indonesian football fans in Melbourne, and started watching and learning to play games.

“When I finally watched a live football match at the MCG for the first time, I was amazed,” Ms Surjanto said.

“I saw people from different backgrounds mingling to support their team.

She took that experience home to Indonesia and made it her mission to use football to build “self-confidence and teamwork” in women.

“I’m passionate about empowering women,” she said.

Photo of Ana Surjanto and her friends
Ana Surjanto says women are empowered by learning to play soccer.(Provided)

Ms Surjanto obtained her AFL Level 1 accreditation in 2018 after passing an exam organized by AFL Indonesia with Australian examiners.

She said running the training program presented many challenges, including the need to train “hundreds of women”.

Ms Surjanto is now seeking more funding to support her soccer clinic and expand its sessions to include online training programs.

Iain Shearer AFL Indonesia photo
Krakatoas Football Club founder Iain Shearer (far right) says football has grown in popularity in Indonesia in recent years.(Provided: Krakatoas Football Club)

AFL aims to grow the game in Indonesia

Iain Shearer, of AFL Indonesia and founder of Krakatoa’s, said soccer is not as popular as football in Indonesia, but has seen continuous growth with high participation rates.

“AFL Indonesia aims to grow the game in the country,” Mr Shearer said.

“We had around 8,000 students who went through our development program [in Asia].”

The Bali Geckos said they plan to hold a women’s tournament in Bali later this year with other teams from Asia, and possibly Australia, coming to play.