Contributed by: Troy Thompson
We continue our series on the Asian footy future with a piece that considers how to give players a pathway to international representation even if their own nation is not yet able to field its own fully local team.
The issue of the expat dominated Asian competitions comes to my mind every International Cup, mostly due to the absence of so many countries in Asia that are not represented. Japan have for a long time been involved in footy and have both expat dominated clubs and grass roots locals clubs (mostly dominated by Uni Students that they lose once they move on to employment) and have played in all International Cups. Then along came China and India who have both been able to put together national squads at the last two international cups (with some numerical support from Chinese and Indians in Australia). East Timor were the latest to join the competition in 2011.
But how to get more of the countries in Asia where footy is played involved? The obvious answer is to grow the game in the individual countries among the nationals of those countries. Ideally build up a healthy pool of individuals, pick your national team, raise the funds and the job is done. To my mind nothing beats grass roots, self sustaining community football clubs who can produce and provide their elite players to representative football.
For a variety of reasons it is clearly not that simple.
Some clubs are happy with the expat makeup of their footy team, others have had limited success in reaching out to the locals and converting them into regular Aussie Rrules footballers. The geographical realities of some clubs mean that they have to fly internationally for away games and the costs and visa issues mean that even if they wanted to play the nationals of those countries cannot realistically play in those matches.
The introduction of the World XVIII team in the national Under 16 Championships is one way that the AFL have been able to provide a junior talent pathway for young footballers from all parts of the world. In fact last year saw the first Asian internationals Thomas Murphy from Hong Kong and Richard Wood (pictured) from Indonesia play in the team (other Australian based players of Asian parentage or background have played in the World XVIII team). We would hope in the future that we start to see many more.*
But what about senior international competition such as the International Cup? For those playing around the world in a nation that is unable to send a team it is the chance to represent their country in an elite international squad. The introduction of the Peace team in 2008 was a very successful move that made a statement that the International Cup was also about greater themes and while the players were representing either Israel or Palestine they also represented numerous other ideals and were able to combine and overcome the obvious political and religious differences and many other obstacles that were not so obvious.
To my mind that opened the way for other combined teams in the future. And this is what I would suggest for Asia. For there to be an Asian All-Stars team. The team would be made up of players from across the Asian countries, much like the World XVIII team. Of course this would require someone to organise it. Which may be the AFL but more likely either and individual or a body such as the proposed AFL Asia.
While not a national team many nations would be represented and give the opportunity for those nationals that play among expats and those that play in countries that cannot afford a full squad to travel to Australia to take part. To my mind such a team would of course play in the lowest divisions of the International Cup preferably, to keep Division 1 always for stand alone nations.
The much touted strength of the network of expats playing footy in these countries could be harnessed to raise funds and sponsorship for these nationals to attend the International Cup where they would be normally unable to afford themselves. They would also be able to volunteer to make up the coaching and support staff and use their networks to keep costs down in Australia. Two players from each of eight countries that are not currently represented would be a long way towards a squad and if there was a shortfall, numbers could be made up from Australian based Asian players (eligible under IC rules) and even non-selected players from other Asian nations such as Japan and China might be interested in playing in an All Stars team?
For those that have seen behind the scenes of the International Cup up close, it is a real opportunity for players and administrators of footy from around the world who may at times feel quite isolated, to feel part of the greater footy world and share their experiences and passions. Just the sort of thing that can spark a fire in people to want to return home and bring something bigger and better next time around. In the All Stars scenario I would hope it would inspire at least some of the players to want to return home to build their own national teams. And for their supportive expat team mates back in Asia to also see the growth of those individuals when they return and be inspired to want to repeat and grow the game more in their adopted countries among the locals.
So a lot of wishful thinking or a worthwhile road to go down?
Next we report on the launch of the East Asian AFL and the rapid developments to include new teams and maybe even an All-Star concept.
* Players from East Timor were selected in 2011 but unable to attend due to visa issues.
World Footy News