Footy in China has received plenty of attention in recent times, with Tom Mattessi and Andrew Sawitsch both working hard to kick-start local participation. Along the way they've had the assistance of a sister-city arrangement between Melbourne and Tianjin, as well as active Australian expat-based footy clubs in Shanghai and Beijing.
Currently footy is established in two main regions of China (three including Hong Kong). In the north, the Beijing Bombers are a mainly Australian footy club in the national capital, with some fairly new mainly Chinese university teams about two hours away in Tianjin. On the coast further south the Shanghai Tigers are also about two hours' away from the city of Suzhou, where a burgeoning juniors program is taking root in local schools.
The people working on the ground in China believe the potential to be massive, although there's talk the next step could require a funding injection from the Australian end to really create a solid, self-sustaining footy scene. Certainly many consider a Chinese team at the 2008 IC to be a strong possibility - and possibly a huge surprise packet on the field. Could China become the "new South Africa" with regards to development funding?
The countdown to the 2007 Narita Cup has officially begun with the Japan AFL this week beginning its promotion of the event. To be held in early October, it will coincide with the 20th anniversary of football in the country. Japan’s first taste of Australian football was a curtain-raiser to a Hawthorn and Essendon AFL match at Yokohama Stadium in 1987, and involved the renowned Waseda and Keio Universities. Since that initial game, the Japan AFL has been diligent in expanding football's profile throughout the country, with both a senior and university competition underway and representation (through the All-Japan Samurais) at the 2002 and 2005 International Cups. The Samurais have been one of the more active national sides, making an annual trip to Australia which will continue this year.
Held on the 14th of July in front of hundreds of spectators at Bangkok Patana School, the 8th Annual Asian Championships of Australian Football have been hailed a great success by all involved and once again raised the bar on the standard of footy played in Asia. The following report is courtesy of the Thailand Tigers' Asian Cup coordinator Steven Richards.
The Hong Kong Dragons defeated the Bali Geckos 43-34 in a tight Asian Champs final yesterday, pulling ahead in extra time after scores were level at full time. Full results and report soon, in the meantime there is an interesting report of the final available from Thailand's English-language newspaper the Bangkok Post.
Update: The link is now invalid. Here's a few snippets from Alan Parkhouse's article:
The Hong Kong Dragons hung on to win their first Asian Australian Football Championships in a thrilling grand final at the Patana School grounds in Bangkok yesterday. The Dragons won a nail-biting grand final which went into extra time against the Bali Geckos in a match that had the noisy crowd of more than 1,000 on the edge of their seats.
It was a fitting finale to the biggest Australian Rules football tournament ever held outside Australia, which saw 10 teams from Asia and the Middle East in action on the plush grounds of the Patana School grounds in suburban Bangkok, trying to kick goals and behinds through the bamboo goalposts.
As the full time siren approached Bali kicked a behind to level the score and take the match into extra time. Two five minute halves of extra time were then played.
After the extra 10 minutes, with the crowd cheering loudly for the popular Bali side, the Hong Kong boys scored a scrappy goal with two minutes to go, followed by another behind on the siren to take a well-deserved 43-34 victory.
The draw for the Asian championships has been announced, with 20 pool matches scheduled between 10 sides on two grounds in one day. The tournament will also feature Australian rock legends "the Fauves" and has received coverage on Australian national radio station Triple J as part of "This Sporting Life", the program of legendary sports reporters Roy and HG. The AFL's Footy Record will also feature the Champs this weekend, which might help a few of the footy fans out there still unaware of international footy's existence to come on board.
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.