As football begins to establish itself outside of Australia, more and more clubs and leagues are implementing junior programs. This benefits football through improved exposure and offers the entities a future talent pool to draw from. Japan is home to two football leagues, the Japan AFL and the Nippon AFL both of whom have tried to get youth involved with footy. The latter has launched the ‘Japan Joeys’ and have held clinics at elementary schools throughout Osaka whilst several clubs in the JAFL have held similar clinics or formed a junior arm – such as what the Osaka Dingoes have done with 'the Russells'. Now, independent of both bodies, Wayne Garth has held football clinics at the Tokyo International School.
In the lead-up to this year's Asian Australian Football Championships in Bangkok there has been some talk about the formalisation of an official Asian AFL to complement the championships and create a structure for scheduling international matches and funding junior development. A proposal floated on the Hanoi Swans' blog suggests two divisions of five clubs each could play a home-and-away series each year, the divisions being north - Tokyo Goannas, Hong Kong, China (Shanghai), Vietnam (Hanoi) and the Philippines - and south - Bali, Jakarta, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Each team would play the other four sides in their division once each year, with two matches at home and two away.
While WFN doesn't know how much this has been discussed by clubs so far, it looks like an interesting idea, particularly as there is mention in the plan of coordinating funding and sponsorship for clubs undertaking local and junior development. We'll post further news as it becomes available.
Japan's Samurai squad swept through the 2007 Arafura Games undefeated recently, taking out the tournament for the first time. The team has returned to the event every two years and has steadily improved each time. This year they took on the Northern Territory Crocs and the Northern Territory Buffalos. WFN spoke with both the Samurai's captain and team manager about their Down Under.
The Hanoi Swans are Vietnam's oldest continuous footy club, regularly playing around the Asian region, with an on-again-off-again presence in the southern city of Saigon. While primarily an Australian-expat based club, the Hanoi Swans are forging links with the Elgar Park Dragons, Melbourne's first Vietnamese community-based footy side, and starting AusKick at the United Nations International School in Hanoi.
In addition to developments in Vietnam, a new club is under formation in neighbouring Laos, to be nicknamed "the Elephants".
The UAE Heat, representing the clubs playing in Dubai and other cities, and Vietnam, combining the Saigon and Hanoi clubs, will be making their debuts in the tournament this year, with Dubai tipped to give regional powerhouses Bali, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore a real push in the tournament.
The prospects of Aussie Rules putting down some permanent roots amongst the locals in China are looking more and more positive, with the Melbourne Football Club continuing its exploration of commercial interests and confirming that footy has been accepted into several educational institutions. Getting government sanctioning is important in all countries, but none more so than in (partially) Communist China.
Key outcomes from a 10 day visit by Demons officials, the Melbourne City Council and the AFL included:
- visits to Beijing, Shanghai and Melbourne's sister city Tianjin
- commitments from several Chinese education, health and sports authorities were secured to allow the introduction of the Australian game over the next 12 months
- interest from large television broadcasters in adding AFL coverage to their schedules
- up to 15 players will be heading to China in October to run clinics and training seminars for expatriate and local players
- continuing to examine possibility of playing an exhibition match next year in Tianjin
- plans to bring one or two players back to Melbourne to train with the club and learn to deliver training programs
- again affirming the hope to have China represented at the 2008 International Cup, with perhaps 16 countries expected
The Arafura Games were once a huge part of footy's international takeoff, with the competition the first tournament to feature international representative matches between national teams such as PNG, New Zealand, Nauru and Japan, as well as some of the expat sides from Asia and Aboriginal squads from the Australian outback.
Although the International Cup largely filled the market for a major international tournament, the Arafura Games still has Aussie Rules, albeit as a demonstration sport, and a developmental team from the Japan AFL is currently in town for the event. The Japanese have played three matches so far, defeating the NT Buffalos twice and the NT Crocs once, with another game against the Crocs to come tonight.
The AFL's Melbourne Demons have increased their push into the Chinese market, now announcing a focus on Chinese students studying in Australia and a new club website, melbournefc.com.au/china, published in Mandarin. Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported today that Demons officials have spent the past 10 days in China furthering plans for Australian Rules to be played at over 20 schools and universities in Tianjin.
This year, the juggernaut that is the Asian Australian Football Championships rolls into Bangkok, home of the Thailand Tigers - hosts for 2007. The tournament has been scheduled a little earlier than usual this year for the weekend of July 14th, a fact that has seen many of the Aussie Rules teams of Asia, including four of the region's powerhouse teams, dust their boots off and blow the preseason cobwebs out with early match practise to get season 2007 underway.
In November last year, a representative Under 15 Pancawati side from the West Java Australian Football League (WeJAFL) hosted a Jakarta based British International School Under 15 team. Excitingly, this was the first time that the BIS kids had played a game of Aussie Rules. Even so though, the BIS squad gave the WeJAFL team a run for their money in a nail biting clash. A full match report by Robert Baldwin of the WeJAFL can be seen here on the Jakarta Bintangs website.
In another article posted on the Jakarta Bintang website, From Little Things, Big Things Grow: Banda Aceh Bandits AFC, veteran Bintang, Matt Stephens, takes a humorous look at the tentative first steps of a couple of the Aussie Rules faithful as they attempt to establish a new Australian Football Club in the devastated Indonesian province of Banda Aceh.