The annual Asian Championships of Australian Football will be held in Shanghai on Saturday week, with an encouraging twelve teams to take part, a two-team increase on the previous year's event. All of last year's teams will be present, although Bali and Jakarta are consolidated as Indonesia. Joining them are the Japan Goannas, Macau Lightning and the Asian Barbarians.
Dubai Heat, aiming to win their third consecutive title, are the hot favourites. They're taking the tournament very seriously, withdrawing from the upcoming AFL Middle East season, apparently in an effort to focus on the "greater prize". This is a big statement considering the Heat are reigning AFL ME Premiers.
The chief executive of the AFL Andrew Demetriou made the announcement in Melbourne. In a first for Australian sport, the Shanghai Media Group (SMG) will televise one AFL match every week live into China on International Channel Shanghai (ICS). The agreement will include the 2010 Toyota AFL finals series, including the Toyota AFL Grand Final, and the Kaspersky Cup – AFL Shanghai Showdown between Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions in Shanghai on October 17.
It will extend into the 2011 Toyota AFL Premiership season to include one AFL match each week. The agreement was made possible after the ABC and SMG recently signed a co-operation agreement between their international channels, Australia Network and ICS. As part of the agreement, ICS will produce a pre-match program to precede the broadcast of each match to give viewers information about AFL.
The AFL has launched a new Chinese website ahead of the first AFL match to be played in Shanghai between Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions in October. The Mandarin-speaking website, www.51afl.com ( translates to `I want AFL’) has already attracted more than 12,000 visitors in its first two weeks, with more than 10,000 visitors from mainland China.
The website will be used to help promote the Kaspersky Cup – AFL Shanghai Showdown between Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions at Jiangwan Stadium on October 17. Up to 10,000 people are expected to attend the match which coincides with World Expo.
On July 31st, the Cambodian Cobras will host the Vietnam Swans in Phnom Penh, in what the new Cobras hope will be the beginnings of a regular Cambodian presence on the Asian footy circuit.
Wearing Adelaide Crows jumpers with an added Cobra logo, the new club is the third team to kick the footy in Cambodia, after the Cambodia Crocs and Cambodia Kangas formed for tournaments in the past.
The Swans are reportedly excited to help their neighbours to help generate the interest and motivation at the new club, as they have also done in their friendly rivalry with the Lao Elephants.
The 2010 Asian Championships will this year be held in China for the first time, kicking off in Shanghai on October 16th in conjunction with the Melbourne vs Brisbane AFL exhibition match at the World Expo. League CEO Andrew Demetriou will be in attendance and meeting with all the Asian footy clubs at the Championships.
The Vice President of China, Xi Jinping, attended last week's AFL match between Carlton and Fremantle on the invitation of dignitaries which included, "AFL commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and Victorian premier John Brumby." Xi has previously been named amongst the Top 100 most influential people in the world, by Time magazine.
After the rules were explained in Mandarin by a Southern Dragons player, Xi expressed an interest in the sport, enquiring if any players were of Chinese heritage and was excited by the prospect of future players being recruited from China. When he later addressed a trade delegation, he even made mention of his night at the footy. If the sport has made a positive impression on Xi, this could add serious momentum to the sport's expansion into the world's biggest country, as Xi is likely successor to current president Hu Jintao.
Melbourne play the Brisbane Lions in an exhibition match at Jiangwan Sports Centre in Shanghai on 17 October 2010, with a crowd of up to 30,000 a possibility.
The Bali Geckos Australian Rules team topped off hosting a very successful Powerade Bali Masters 9’s tournament by winning the championship. The Geckos defeated a team made up of Darwin firefighters in a fairly one-sided final of the cup division.
With 13 teams participating, this year’s tournament saw the largest number of teams to compete in an AFL tournament anywhere in Asia. The eleven teams from last year’s event all returned, and were joined by debutants the Motley Men from Victoria and the eventual runners-up the Darwin Firies.
The large number of teams, seven from Australia and six from Asia, saw the event split into two separate divisions, the Cup and the Plate competitions. The growing size of the tournament forced organisers to hold the event over two days at Bali’s leading sporting facility, the Canggu Club.
The Hong Kong Dragons will meet new local rivals the Macau Lightning and Pokfulam Vikings this weekend, with a three-match schedule kicking off at Hong Kong's new Kai Tak Cricket Ground at 11am this Saturday.
The match will mark the first official match for the Macau Lighting, who only formed 12 months ago and have been focussing on Auskick and junior development in the former Portuguese outpost. A strong contingent of players and supporters is expected to venture from Macau across to Hong Kong for the day, lead by former Dragon Troy Harris. Macau have also signaled their intent to make their first appearance at an Asian Championships this year, when the best of Asian footy converges on Shanghai in October.
The Dragons' cross-town rivals the Pokfulam Vikings are also to play their first-ever match this weekend, having been formed by a number of Dragons players living in that area of Hong Kong.
For their part, the host Dragons will be looking to use this day as a platform to launch their assault on a 3rd consecutive Manila Cup Crown on Saturday May 29th, whilst also getting in some much needed match practice before the Vietnam Swans sail into harbour on May 22nd.
In other Chinese footy news, the China Cup is coming to Hong Kong this September, when the Shanghai Tigers and Beijing Bombers fly in to battle the Dragons for supremacy in the Chinese footy community.
An article by Jennifer Witham for the AFL website reports that the Kaspersky AFL Cup, October's match in Shanghai between Melbourne and Brisbane, is a chance to be broadcast live into the Shanghai region. If so, it could reach 100 million viewers and be a great introduction for the game into the Chinese market.
As previously reported, the AFL has been in talks with the Shanghai Media Group to broadcast the match live, and the concept has been boosted with a recent radio broadcast in Mandarin of Melbourne's minor round match against Brisbane by Jamie Pi on 3CW, a Chinese language radio station in Melbourne.
Furthermore, the AFL, Monash and La Trobe University ticket giveaway appears to have been a success, with 2605 students attending the match.
The Melbourne Football Club have been active in pushing the game into China for several years, but for a while appeared to lose momentum as they struggled on and off the field. 2010's on field revival certainly makes the Demons a much more viable option to promote Aussie Rules to China and international students in Melbourne.
Monash's director of sport Martin Doulton said the opportunity to attend Saturday's match was enthusiastically received by the students.
"For our many international students and staff who came along with their Australian friends and colleagues this was truly an iconic Australian cultural experience that will live in their memory for many, many years," he said.
"Lots of students commented on the fact that rival fans could mingle together without the need for fences to separate the rival tribes that is so prevalent overseas."