Leave it to the Australians to take a game and make it criminally violent. Aussie Rules Football is a baffling combination of soccer, rugby, basketball, and, occasionally, UFC fighting. Essentially, the goal of the game is to either carry or kick the ball between the goal posts – a classic sporting concept. Except that this sport has earned its nickname, Aussie No Rules Footy. You can do basically anything you want to get the ball across the line, or to stop the opposite team from doing so. Each team plays with 18 men on the field at a time, although they do not play so much as they engage in brutal, body-crushing warfare. To picture a typical Aussie Rules match, imagine a good old game of American football, but subtract all the pads and steroids, and add in a different ball and a lot more hitting.
The game is played on an oval-shaped grass field, and the ball used is oval as well. Negotiating these odd angles is central to the sport; throwing the ball is not allowed, so the most efficient way to move the ball around the field is by kicking the odd-shaped ball. The game has no offside rule, and players can be anywhere on the field even before play begins. Each match starts with a ball-up, roughly equivalent to a basketball tip off, and continues for four 20-minute stop-time quarters.
The highlight reels for the game focus almost entirely on three things: breakaways, aerial marking (or speckies), and hits. Breakaways end up looking like a combination of football and basketball, because according to the rules, the player must bounce the ball at least once every 15 metres. Aerial marking is when players catch kicks out of the air, often by climbing up other players. They turn players of both teams into personal jungle gyms, often landing with their knees on other players’ shoulders (or back, or head, or face) to gain a few inches of extra height and outreach the rest. And then there are the absolutely awe-inspiring hits – hits so hard they make the current NHL hitting debate seem fickle.
According to the rules, players are allowed to tackle or “bump” other players. However, when you are sprinting as fast as you can, and you bump somebody who is sprinting as fast as they can, or who is flying through the air in a kamikaze attempt to catch a kick, “bump” doesn’t even begin to describe the results. A promotional video put out by the Australian Football League contrasts images of the Australian outback with clips of hits from pro league games, calling them both the country and the game “hard.” Understatement of the year?
One of the earliest matches was played with trees for goal posts, and the game was interrupted by frequent fighting over the lack of the rules. A more organized effort, complete with guidelines for play appeared in 1859. The uniforms however look like they draw more inspiration from the 1970s than the sports rugged roots. Don’t let the short shorts and tank tops fool you, however: this is quite possibly the manliest sport on the planet.