The premise of Footify is simple – convert every Australian to the church of AFL. It’s a venture heavily sponsored (or delivered entirely) by the NAB. Commercial entities typically see complex, multilingual linguistic situations as an impediment to growth and doing business, so it’s interesting that the NAB have taken the opposite stance and are embracing Australia’s linguistic diversity in order to promote the AFL to new markets.

A couple of months ago, they launched a competition looking for LOTE (Languages Other Than English) speaking footy fans to audition for the chance to commentate the 2013 AFL Grand Final. With the big match looming, the Footify campaign has now selected and trained 18 lucky LOTE speakers, covering 10 languages. On Saturday, they will bring you the Hawks v. Dockers final in your choice of Arabic, French, German, Turkish, Croatian, Punjabi, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese or Greek. A pretty impressive selection of languages.

I must admit that when I first heard of this competition I was dubious. Partly, this was to do with a general antipathy that latte-sippers like me have of major corporations doing… well, anything basically and partly I was concerned that they were undermining language professionals. But they’ve won me over. Checking out some of their publicity videos, they convey a strong sense that the competition winners are simply excited to be there, and are engaging in legitimate skills development (linguistic and otherwise). Additionally, the competition is likely fostering greater pride among the commentators and their speech communities in their mother tongues. They certainly look like they’re having fun:


When the campaign launched a few months back, I bagged them out because, as an accredited interpreter and budding language professional, I was offended at their appeal for amateurs to do work that could be capably done by professionals. I also wondered how language services providers like SBS would feel about it. I asked prominent sociolinguist Ingrid Piller about this who put my mind at ease. She felt that AFL isn’t terribly popular among many in migrant communities so wouldn’t be high on the radar of language professionals and wouldn’t be taking much away from them. Dr. Piller added:

“I think it’s not doing any harm and actually raising the profile of LOTEs in Australia as it makes LOTEs look like a way to get on TV.”

Certainly the publicity coming from Footify makes it look that way (and this radio interview with one of the Arabic commentators affirms that). When Fremantle and Hawthorn take the field on Saturday, there will be 18 excited LOTE speakers taking on an important, if somewhat novel, role that has at its core an intrinsic appreciation of linguistic diversity. And those 18 will likely be listened to by many others who will get a sense that the LOTEs they speak are pretty damn cool. An important sentiment considering the government’s recent abolition of the Ministry for Multicultural Affairs has sent the opposite message.

We’d love to hear from any LOTE-speaking readers with thoughts on this Footify campaign and especially specific reviews of the commentary or particular translations. There’s likely to be many linguistic points of contention: note the two Greek commentators (video below) having a good-natured stoush over how to translate the verb ‘kick’ in the sense of ‘kick a goal’ – should it be κλωτσησε (kicked) or έβαλε (put)?


And as for Footify, personally I’d love to see them take it further in the future. In America earlier this year, a Major League Baseball team, the Arizona Razorbacks, created a first when one of their games was broadcast with Navajo commentary. The same could be replicated in Australia by incorporating an Aboriginal language like Warlpiri (spoken by a couple of ex-AFL players) into projects like Footify. Or maybe expand into African languages by including Majak Daw’s first language (assumedly Dinka).

As for the footy, may the best team win on Saturday. And may those tuning into the Footify commentators have a good time listening to them. My guess is that the commentators will be having a good time regardless of the size of their audience.