WHILE Australia's appearance at soccer's World Cup took the round-ball code to new levels of popularity, the AFL has released figures saying that Australian football has never been as popular as now, and that it has nearly 200,000 more participants than soccer.

On Friday, the AFL's game development department will present participation figures to the commission that show the game has more than 600,000 players for the first time.

Forecast figures for 2007 say Australian football has 615,549 players compared with soccer's estimated 426,000 participants (the latter revealed by that game's chief executive and former AFL executive Ben Buckley). The AFL total included about 150,000 registered Auskick players, whose number grew by 11,000 in 2007.

The AFL total figure in 2006 was 581,839 — meaning the game had added nearly 34,000 participants over the past 12 months, with all states and territory posting at least small increases.

"There are more people playing Australian football than ever before," the AFL's head of game development, David Matthews, said last night.

He said that despite the attention generated by Australia reaching the finals of soccer's World Cup, football had never had as many participants and was more than holding its own.

Matthews said he believed the World Cup had actually benefited the AFL and Australian football because the competition had encouraged the market leader to work harder to maintain its position as a grassroots sport. "Competition is good. It makes us do a better job," he said.

Matthews added that the World Cup, paradoxically, had created more participation in all sport. "There's more enthusiasm about sport in general."

The AFL's research showed Victoria had increased its total number of participants by more than 4500 to 223,999 registered players — more than double the figure for Western Australia, the state with the next highest number.

Forecast growth in AFL participation:

2004 2005 2006 2007*

Vic 210,297 214,364 219,439 223,999

WA 81,122 84,591 89,314 100,009

SA 67,194 70,051 72,040 72,971

NSW-ACT 59,472 61,273 84,132 95,100

Qld 57,687 62,599 69,796 74,622

Tas 25,186 31,471 32,040 32,138

NT 15,085 15,177 15,078 16,710

TOTAL 516,043 539,526 581,839 615,549

Growth 6.87% 4.55% 7.84% 5.79%

* Forecast for 2007