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Historical Vignette: Aussie Rules at the Olympics

15 June 2006

An Australian Rules football match was played as a demonstration sport in the Main Stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, during the 1956 Olympics.

From 1904 until 1992 the organising committee for each Olympic Games was permitted to add two demonstration sports to the program. No medals were awarded for those sports. Baseball, badminton and taekwondo are three sports that have progressed from being demonstrations to fully fledged Olympic sports, eligible for medals. Indeed baseball was the second demonstration sport in Melbourne in 1956.

Along with Australian Rules football other “exotic” demonstrations over the years have included roller hockey, korfball (a form of handball) and pesäpallo (Finnish baseball).

The teams that played the demonstration of Australian Rules in 1956 were a representative team from the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) and a composite team of amateurs from the Victorian Football League (VFL) and the Victorian Football Association (VFA).

In the event the VAFA team prevailed by kicking 12 goals 9 behinds to 8 goals 7 behinds. The combined VFL/VFA team featured a number of footballers who were already famous in the VFL or became household names in later years. Included in the team were Denis Cordner (Melbourne), Ray Gabelich, Ken Turner and Brian Gray (all of Collingwood), Brian Walsh (St Kilda), Laurie Dwyer (North Melbourne) and Brendan Edwards (Hawthorn).

Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA)

Backs: R Collins (MHSOB), L Wakeling (Old Par), G Hibbins (Collegians)
Half Backs: L Williams (Ivanhoe), AG Capes (Uni Blacks), P Rochow (Coburg)
Centres: C Empey (Comm Bank), I Merrick (Coburg), WB Thomas (Old Mel)
Half Forwards: WM Mitchell (Old Mel), J Hannan (Old Mel), G Gill (Uni Blacks)
Forwards: R Pettigrove (Coburg), JD Anderson (Old Mel), R Fenton-Smith (Orm)
Followers: P Harkness (Old Scotch), J Hayes (Uni Blues)
Rover: M Keogh (Uni Blacks)
19th & 20th: L Grant (Power House), R Tindale (Old Scotch)
Emergencies: D Douglas (SS Bank), J Byrne (Orm), P Craw (Old Scotch)

Combined Victorian Football League (VFL) and Victorian Football Association (VFA)

Backs: R Gabelich (Coll), V Naismith (Rich), B Walsh (StK)
Half Backs: J Sassella (Coburg), J Westacott (Foots), B Collopy (Melb)
Centres: L Dwyer (North M), B Gaze (Prahran), B Edwards (Haw)
Half Forwards: K Turner (Coll), N McNeill (South M), B Gray (Coll)
Forwards: F Dunin (Rich), D Plunkett (Box Hill), D Tobin (North M)
Followers: D Cordner (Melb), K Woolnough (N'cote)
Rover: R Allsopp (Rich)
19th & 20th: K Marshall (S'ham), T Hussey (N'cote)
Emergencies: K Anderson (Oakleigh), Lindsay Gaze (Prahran), B Turner (Coll)

Bruce Coe 
Olympic Historian