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Indonesian Muslim women boost cultural understanding of Australia through AFL training

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JAKARTA: 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,” 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,” Nurbaeti said.

“I learned to kick and pass the ball.”

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.

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.

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

“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.

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,” 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.

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

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

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.

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