Contributed by: Brett Northey
The Melbourne Football Club's tour of China is revealing that initial investment in Australian Football in Asia's giant is already bearing fruit. In the past there have been occasional visits by AFL clubs to international destinations with one-off clinics they may not leave a lasting legacy. So it must have been a delight for the Demons to find school children in Suzhou already well-versed in the skills of Aussie Rules. Details of the club's trip are being regularly updated on their website as the Melbourne dalliance with new markets begins in earnest.
Although a well supported AFL club, it's no secret that Melbourne have had some financial issues over the years and do not have regular supporters in the same large numbers as the top few clubs in Victoria or indeed Australia. As such they've recognised the need to look to the future, and just like so much of the sporting and business world, they've seen China could be crucial.
As we've reported previously, the Demons have begun a modest program of support for the game in Tianjin, a massive metropolis not far from Beijing. There are also expat sides doing their bit in Beijing and Shanghai, and now some networking from football visionary Brian Dixon is coming to the fore in Suzhou. It's a city of over three million people (perhaps over six million regionally) and known for its gardens which are often visited by tourists as a day trip from Shanghai.
As part of the AFL's policy of "teaching the teacher", they brought two school teachers to Melbourne for training in the game, and those two trail blazers have subsequently spread the message to other teachers in Suzhou, such that the sport is now taught in 18 schools as part of physical education (PE). Hence the children, aged 7 to 10, who attended the Dees' clinic, were described as playing just as well as any Aussie kids would do.
You can read more about Melbourne's clinic at Suzhou Stadium Suzhou’s ‘footy’ clinic. For most English readers, note that the 'zh' in Suzhou is pronounced more like a 'j'.
Melbourne's website also features a series of radio programs on their tour, some of which focuses on the players having a good time as tourists, but also including former Australian cricketer and media personality Max Walker talking with football legend Ron Barassi. Apparently the tour is also getting some local press coverage and has included several other footy clinics for kids.
Day 1 radio - Max Walker with Ron Barassi.
Day 4 radio - Tom Parker from Melbourne City Council with Max Walker watching the Tianjin Demons in Tianjin.
Day 7 radio - Max Walker in Suzhou discusses the possible future in footy for some of the kids, with new Melbourne coach Dean Bailey and Chris Connolly.
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