Thousands of Aussie juniors get free Nike footballs

Football Federation Victoria, which runs soccer in Australia's smallest mainland state, has reported a substantial increase in player registrations, males, females and juniors, as a result of Australia's World Cup qualification last week. From a state population of just over five million (similar to Scotland or about 10% more than Singapore), FFV expects to have between 110,000 and 120,000 participants in its 2006 season, more than tripling the 30,000 of 2001.

The FFV has struck a deal for its GoalKick promotion program that provides every junior who registers with a Nike soccer ball. "We want every young player who registers to have a ball with him at home. They can practice in the back yard, they can play with their mates," FFV CEO Tony Pignata told Peter Desira of the Herald Sun. "We want them to live, eat, sleep with soccer. Just love it."

Marco Bresciano, the scorer of the Socceroos' goal against Uruguay, has been signed as the program's ambassador. "He was happy to be involved. He gets nothing out of it," Pignata said. As, well, Milo has signed a two-year deal to provide funds to promote the GoalKick program

The VFF has 430 registered clubs, most of them running several teams from seniors down to under-7s, and its semi-pro, state Premier League is sponsored by Vodafone.

With the rapid increase in players, the FFV's biggest issue is grounds and it is working with local governments to convert grounds no longer used by Australian-Rules to convert into soccer grounds. "This is not about us against [the other codes] and we don't think they are in trouble but kids do try different sports and kids who were umming and aahing before qualification now definitely want to have a go," Pignata said.


Australian-Rules is also suffering from lack of grounds in Victoria, its Football Victoria executive Mick Daniher told Damian Barrett of the Herald Sun (2 Dec). "We haven't changed anything we are doing, and won't be changing anything, in light of the soccer [World Cup] qualification. That's not to say we don't respect soccer, it's just that our programs and strategies are always being worked on three years in advance ... Soccer may get some growth from people who aren't currently playing sport, as opposed to people leaving [Australian-Rules] football for soccer," he said.

"As it stands, we don't have enough ovals ourselves," he said. "And that is a direct result of growth. In 2005, we had more than 124,325 people in Victoria participating in the game at club level. Then there is Auskick (45,000 participants in 2005). Between 2004 and 2005, there were 165 new teams added. That is the best growth we have recorded in the 15 years since we started compiling these figures." Australian Sports Commission figures for 2004 showed total participation in Australian-Rules in Victoria was 210,297, compared with 29,106 for soccer.