New Caledonia - the next outpost in Pacific footy
Footy in the South Pacific is spreading, with eight countries to date now having either an organised league or informal games played. This year saw footy surface in Vanuatu for the first time, as well as renewed interest in rebooting footy in Fiji. Footy in the Solomons saw a revival led by Australian peacekeepers late last year.
Together with the four Pacific nations at the IC, plus Tonga who couldn't make the full draw, this gives eight nations with some footy presence in the region. All of them are now being investigated as part of the creation of AFL Oceania. The ninth link in Pacific footy could now come from a country traditionally somewhat separate from the Australian sphere of influence, the French overseas territory of New Caledonia.
Laurent Caravel, a Parisian who was previously involved with Australian football in France, is in the New Caledonian capital Noumea and wants to see footy formalised in the island nation.
Caravel tells us, "I worked Marc Jund and Olivier Tresca for the creation of footy in France and the recognition of the sport by French authorities. My wife is originally from Vanuatu and I lived for a long time in Noumea. So we decided to return to New Caledonia."
There is already some footy being played informally in Noumea, and as Caravel says, "as soon as I arrived here I started to investigate. The initial results have been very good. There are some French, New Zealander and Australian players, but nothing's structured." A match has already been held against local rugby players, with Caravel's plan to coordinate the sport to play in rugby's off season on the island.
He is also in contact with the Australian consul-general in Noumea Anita Butler and hopes to use connections to help develop Australian football in the other French territories of the Pacific, namely the islands of Wallis and Futuna near Fiji and further east in French Polynesia.
Caravel is also hopeful that the proximity to Australia will open possibilities for Australians studying sport at university could undertake clinics in New Caledonia, as well as two-way population connections between Australia and the islands. "There are a lot of New Caledonians in the south of Australia, a lot on the Gold Coast. We have New Caledonians here who like physical sports, as well as a strong Australian community in Noumea."
The club can be contacted through the Noumea footy facebook group. This new project also coincides with new efforts to form a handful of new clubs back in France, with a new club in Perpignan in the works, as well as people looking for interested players in Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse and Metz.