Midway through our financial year, I wanted to provide a check-in on all the goings-on throughout the sport in New Zealand. As a reminder, I’m Andrew Fraser, Chair of Te Runanga o Whutuporo I Amerika ki Aotearoa | New Zealand American Football Federation, writing on behalf of fellow Board members Steph Murray, Glenn Critchley, CJ Berry & Shernice Henry, and GM Russell McConnochie.
Well, I was really hoping that my update at last year’s AGM would be the last time I would have to talk of cancellations and postponements due to Covid, however unfortunately we have seen another season full of disruption given Covid’s constant presence around New Zealand. As a brief round-up of the regions:
- AFA had to cancel their tackle season, playing Flag only after the Christmas break. That was again disrupted with the limitation in numbers gathering under Red, seeing the competition split. However, hearty congratulations to the South Auckland Raiders Purple for winning the Women’s Competitions, the Tamaki Lightning Black for winning the Men’s Competition, and the Tamaki Lightning for winning the Youth Competition - well done!
- AFW cancelled their tackle season prior to Christmas but managed to complete their competition in the New Year, with the Hutt Valley Spartans taking the crown. Flag has been played through the summer wIth the Hutt Valley Spartans proud to complete the double.
- Nelson managed to play their normal Flag Season prior to the Christmas break with the winners being the Outlaws for the second year running, beating the Green Machine in the final.
- AFC played their contact season prior to Christmas and a Flag season after the break. They also delivered their Canterbury Youth Flag football season in February and March. The Northern Wolfpack won the Seniors and Varsity Competition, the Stingers won the Junior Flag, and the Black Panthers took out the Junior Contact Exhibition match.
In addition, unfortunately Flag Nationals were postponed because of the difficulty of delivering the event under Red. Ironically the restrictions were removed at midnight on the Friday just prior to the scheduled start date of the Nationals. We are looking to reschedule in September/October.
However, through all of this, there were some other really exciting highlights across the sport.
We welcomed a new club into the community, with another on the way
Earlier in the season we welcomed another club to our community. The Tauranga Tridents have started off with a hiss and a roar with over 50 registered members including coaches and referees. They were aiming at competing with a mens and a youth team in the Flag Nationals and even championed the introduction of a Masters grade, so it was a disappointment that the nationals were postponed. They also held a tournament on the weekend of the 5th March with a number of teams competing.
The Board have also just approved the introduction of the Takaanini Giants, another welcome addition to the AFA infrastructure.
We locked in two referees to attend the World Games
IFAF (the International Federation of American Football - our international body) asked for global nominations for referees to attend the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, in July. We nominated two officials from New Zealand and are proud to announce that they have both been accepted! The two referees that will be representing New Zealand at the World Games are Paul Brownd from Auckland and Donald McMillan from Christchurch. This will be an opportunity for our referees to see how the game is played and refereed internationally, helping our Mako teams prepare for international competition and giving Paul and Donald invaluable international officiating experience.
We held a series of Flag Invitationals around the North Island
- The Hamilton Hawks held a Flag Tournament with 5 teams competing including the Hawkes Bay Heat and Turangi. The Heat bought the Hamilton Shield that they won in 2019 and it was taken away by Turangi who won the tournament.
- Hamilton also hosted the Women's Flag Friendly organised between Shernice Henry and Ethan from the Hamilton Hawks. Eight teams competed with Lions Black taking the honours from Raiders Purple. Six referees also attended. It was a great day and a great venue. Big thanks to Shernice, Ethan, the Hawks, the referees and the players.
- Wellington held their end of season flag tournament. Five teams attending, including the Hawks Bay Heat who retained their Wellington Shield that they won in 2019.
We gave over $45,000 to Clubs, and helped bring $53,000 of equipment to players and teams
Our Club Grants programme continued to give money back to clubs, with the total being paid out being over $45,000. This was paid out based on player, team, coach and referee numbers and participation, with money going to completing player safety reporting, having qualified first aiders at games, coaches and players doing the concussion refresher and including women's teams in competition. As a Board, we love this initiative, as it helps make the sport more playable for more people, and we will be continuing to use it to inject cash to the clubs nationwide.
NZAFF also continued its programme of equipment subsidies for clubs and players. We spend $41,500 on helmets for clubs, noting that some of which are yet to be distributed because covid stopped AFA competitions. All in all, clubs have bought almost $53,000 worth of gear since August last year, receiving grants for equipment of approximately $18,500.
The Mako programme was kicked back off, a first step in our build up to the 2028 Olympics
The Mako National Flag Football team program has been in Covid induced hibernation for a couple of years but it is about to be restarted with planning underway. The World Champs are being held this year in Birmingham, Alabama, as part of the World Games. In order to have qualified for the event, the Mako would have had to have attended, and placed in the top-eight at last year's World Games in Israel - an impossibility due to Covid-enforced New Zealand travel restrictions. However there is another World Championships in 2024 which we will be targeting with a Women’s and Men’s team.
We are ramping up the Champions Project, to support delivery across NZ
The Champions Project was conceived to provide incentives for both members and non-members to deliver Football activities into our communities. It includes providing funding for running tournaments, have-a-go days, scrimmages and any other ideas on how we can grow the reach of Football. Here are some examples:
- Otago Flag has just started Scrimmage Sundays and are already thinking about holding a regular competition - 30 players turned out for the first scrimmage. Two students reached out and said they wanted to start something and two weeks later it was on.
- ·Taupo Flag - a couple of the Hawks members went down to Taupo to run a have-a-go day and had around 15 players turn up. They will go down again to follow up.
- Tournaments - the organisers of the recent Flag tournaments will get funding for organising the event, with NZAFF paying for the referee attendance.
- The Hawks members were also instrumental in helping the Tridents get off the ground and start their local competition.
And finally… A Spotlight on: Canterbury Junior Flag
AFC has been running their Junior Flag competition for some time, but it has just come onto the National Radar as an example of what can happen at the U14 age groups. Currently, AFC have 10 teams competing with fantastic names (and accompanying logos) such as the Assassins, Sabretooths, Squirrels, Outlaws, Venom, Stingers, Rampage, and the Raging Bulls.
In 2021, there were 48 children competing. 2022 had 62 children participating across the aforementioned 10 teams. Excitingly, the increase in numbers came from the website (five new children), Facebook advertising/ passive posts (another five new children), school newsletters, and a super 19 new children from word of mouth. As a note to other clubs, the Junior Flag organisers noticed the difference between Instagram and Facebook, being able to reach parents on Facebook, and kids on Instagram.
In 2023, nine players will be graduating to junior contact grade, with the expectation of 12 teams across approximately 72 children.
Thank you all once again for the time and effort you all give into maintaining and growing this fantastic sport across New Zealand. As always, reach out to me, or Russell, with ideas, comments, feedback or suggestions - we love to hear from you all. And lastly, please stay safe.
Te Runanga o Whutuporo I Amerika ki Aotearoa | New Zealand American Football Federation