(From left) Essendon captain Jobe Watson with broadcaster Manpreet Singh and community radio presenter Gurtej Singh in the Hindi-Punjabi commentary box. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media
The Australian Football League (AFL) has truly embraced India this season, and it would seem that Indians are also embracing AFL like never before! Sunday, July 20, provided ample proof of this — the Round 18 match between Essendon Bombers and Western Bulldogs had plenty of Indian ‘tadka’ and created history of sorts.
Thanks to the ‘Press Red: Embracing India’ option, for the first time ever, live commentary for a major Australian sporting event was broadcast nationally in two Indian languages, on a dedicated television channel. As part of the much anticipated Multicultural Round 2014, not only could viewers hear Hindi-Punjabi commentary for the entire match, but 120 dancers from the Shiamak Dawar group also entertained the 34,000 sports fans at Etihad stadium in true Bollywood style.
Indian food was available in and around the stadium, photos of Indian children adorned the fixture record magazine, the Essendon team came on field through a sign that read “Welcome, to international students”, while the Bulldogs' sign read "Celebrate the diversity of life, love and food”.
The Indian commentary duo of seasoned SBS broadcaster Manpreet Kaur Singh and community radio host Gurtej Singh was inundated with text messages sent by jubilant Indian viewers from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and indeed from all over the country. And social media seemed to explode in great support of this historic Indian language experiment.
Sporting hero, captain of Essendon FC and AFL Multicultural ambassador, Jobe Watson joined Manpreet and Gurtej in the commentary box to introduce AFL to Indian fans, proudly greeting everyone with Sat Sri Akal, Salaam, Namaste, with hardly any tell-tale accent. In lighthearted banter, Watson shared some of his favourite cricketing memories – because traditionally, every Aussie child usually plays cricket in the summer, and footy in the winter – going on to talk about his great love of Indian food.
Other Essendon players like Alex Browne, Simon Madden and Nick Kommer joined the Indian commentary box too, taking turns to speak a few words in Hindi and Punjabi, and going on to share their beloved sport with a brand new audience. In response to a viewer’s question about his favourite Bollywood star, Kommer promptly said “Brett Lee”. But it’s a viewer’s message that, perhaps, describes it the best: “Baari barsi khatan gaya si, khat ke lai aandi tooti; bhangra ajj sajeya jadd suni Punjabi ’ch footy”.
Quite befittingly, it was a keenly contested match on field, with Essendon stealing a victory over the Bulldogs 101 to 94, keeping them in the hunt for a berth in the finals.
AFL hopes that enthralling matches and initiatives to involve multicultural communities will pay off, and that soon more and more children of migrants will grow to love the sport, follow it, and even play it at the elite level. Perhaps the day isn’t far when a Singh, a Khan or Kumar will join the AFL ranks. And one can safely say that if initiatives like Embracing India continue, it is guaranteed to be sooner rather than later.
To view the PRESS RED: EMBRACING INDIA trailer featuring captain Jobe Watson, click here http://www.essendonfc.com.au/video/2014-07-18/btv-press-red-embracing-india