IF there were such a thing as a United Nations of Australian rules football it would have looked something like this - 700 players from 17 nations crammed into the grandstand at the Warrnambool Racecourse.The AFL International Cup swept into the south-west yesterday by train.A carnival atmosphere descended as the hundreds of players swept onto the platform and through the city's small railway station with joyous displays of singing, dancing and spirited flag-waving.The international players were officially welcomed at the racecourse by Warrnambool Mayor David Atkinson.But the welcome was delayed momentarily by race four, which drew enthusiastic exclamations from punters in the Swedish Elks team.AFL ambassador Kevin Sheedy told onlookers and the teams that in the next decade Australian rules would expand its influence further than was dreamed when the game was born."It's a huge exercise, the AFL has invested in football overseas for quite some time and now it's paying dividends," the former Essendon coach said."Foreign audiences see it as a novelty when they watch AFL on television but not until they actually see it do they appreciate it for the great game it is."China Red Demons player and team interpreter Lu Jian said he began playing Aussie rules after discovering the sport at university about a year ago."You have to be tough, mentally and physically strong and stay at a certain level to compete because it's a long game compared to other sports," Jian said.India Tigers player Aayush Kapoor said that Australian rules suited the country's cricket grounds that are not used during the off-season."I used to play rugby but I became interested in Australian rules at the start of the year and more people like me are becoming interested in the sport because it is more physically challenging than other sports," he said.Round three games commence this afternoon with the players going on tours to Tower Hill and the Great Ocean Road tomorrow before the semi-finals on Wednesday at the Reid, Walter and Mack ovals in Warrnambool.New Zealand Falcons coach Rob Vanstram said there were 1500 registered Aussie rules footballers in NZ and the AFL's international draft rules could mean more interest in the sport. "Popularity of football in New Zealand is directly related to the amount of television coverage we get," he said. "There used to be quite a few matches (broadcast) some years ago but we need more promotion and resources to make inroads into the rugby culture we have over there."