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Footy's Ambassador to China - interview with Tom Mattessi

  • Saturday, May 20 2006 @ 01:18 pm ACST
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The Melbourne Football Club and Melbourne City Council have made the headlines a few times in the last six months with their program to export Australian rules football to China via the sister-city relationship between Melbourne and Tianjin. Early this year Tom Mattessi was named as the first 'Ambassador' of footy to leave for China as part of the sister-city deal - WFN caught up with him to talk about progress so far, the immediate start-up plans and where the project could lead.

Mattessi is a graduate of Sports Management at Deakin University, Melbourne, who also played four seasons of senior football for Victorian Amateur Football Association club Old Brighton. He describes himself as a "good player, senior career held back by suspect kicking and dubious dedication".

"My Chinese is OK. In the office the staff speak Chinese to me so I can understand a bit. I can also speak OK, although explaining hangers and hip and shoulders may be a challenge. I have lived here for 18 months, and studied full time for 1 semester We have prepared some literature: a short history, basic actions and ground positions, in Chinese of course. I tried to contact John Northey’s website. He apparently had Chinese stuff there a while back, but no luck so far."

Mattessi's entry into the Tianjin program was through Tom Parker of Melbourne City Council. According to Mattessi, "the project was his (Parker's) idea, and he designed the job description that was approved by AYAD (Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development). I had met Tom last year and he suggested I apply. I did and was successful - the only applicant".

So far, most support has come via the City of Melbourne, including an office in Tianjin, a Chinese staff member if he needs help and contacts with Tianjin Sports Bureau. The Melbourne Football Club have generally liaised between their GM of Business Development Shane Anderson and Tom Parker at the Melbourne Council.

With regard to immediate aims, Mattessi states "it was decided that the program should be aimed at university students. In China, there is not much emphasis on sport in school, as school is for study, and sport simply takes time from study. University students have more spare time so the initial program will be aimed at two universities in Tianjin. It would be ideal to create a senior side to compete but at the moment I really can’t tell. I will meet the 'guinea pig' class tomorrow."

"The Melbourne City Council office made contact with the sports bureau who decided that these two universities would be suitable, and then organized the first session. The universities are Binghai Vocational College and Tianjin Normal (a bad translation) University.

"The idea is to get a team for the International Cup. I may entice the players with the overseas travel opportunity but will have to see how they take to the game."

Regarding support from the locals in China, "well, the sports bureau seemed interested, and they have organized it quite quickly considering. Apart from that no real other support."

The Beijing Bombers have been playing footy as a primarly Aussie-expat club for a few years now, but have struggled a bit of late to create a stable presence in the Chinese capital. Mattessi played in their only game last year, but the club is hoping to have a much better year in 2006 and Mattessi is optimistic that something will happen together in the future.

When quizzed on the potential of a Chinese footy program reaching the size of the South African one, the AFL's main international project, Mattessi says "Reaching the size of South Africa is a very ambitious goal. A bit like the Dees aiming for 6 flags on the trot, or Alistair Nicholson composing his Brownlow speech. Yes, I’m a long suffering Dees fan."

A central website for the China footy program is under development at aussieruleschina.com.