The weekend of June 10th 2006 found more Asian locals than usual startled by the spectacle of International Aussie Rules in full flight in their backyards as the Asian Footy calendar heats up in the lead-up to the big one - the Asian Championships 06.
Football took another step forward in Pakistan recently with the Swat Continental Hotel in Mingora, playing host to the 'Seminar for the development of Australian Rules football in Pakistan' (WFN first reported activity in the region in the article College tournament planned for North-West Pakistan).
The Japan AFL held its annual two-day Australian Rules Football Carnival, the International Narita Cup, over the previous weekend, June 10 and 11 2006. Originally only contested by Japanese based teams, a rapid growth in the competition followed the 2001 inclusion of Australian VAFA team, Box Hill North. Box Hill North return again in 2006 hoping to avenge their 2005 grand final loss to the Japanese national squad, the Samurais, who have been forced to compete without star players Michito Sakaki and Tsuyoshi Kase, both trying their luck in Australia after training pre-season with AFL club, Essendon.
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.
The Melbourne Football Club's radical decision to develop the game in China looks set to take its highest profile step forward in October 2006 when they are expected to travel to Asia's giant to conduct clinics and play an exhibition match. This has been reported previously on WFN as likely but has now firmed considerably. Inspired by the City of Melbourne's sister-city relationship with Tianjin, a massive area of 10 million people (yet dwarfed by nearby Beijing, with over 15 million in its municipality), the plans include a key component missing from the one-off VFL international sorties of the 1980s. Rather than fly in and fly out, the Demons are already laying the groundwork and firmly intend to build their profile and economic links through a development program that includes demonstration matches and Auskick clinics. This foresight may not yield success in the next few years, but in the longer term if a genuine following develops then the benefits to the AFL club could be enormous. Excitingly, the International Cup is also now being mentioned more often in official circles.
The city of Mingora, in the Swat Valley in North-West Pakistan, will this June play host to a tournament between 4 school and college-based teams. The tournament is being held by the Tanzeem-e-Insidad-e-Manashyiate organisation (TIM), a group combating drug use through seminars, medical centres and sporting tournaments.
In an historic first for an Osaka player, the 2006 Robert Walters scholarship winner is Genki Tanaka (25). The selection of Genki of the Osaka Dingoes is an endorsement of the fantastic strides Australian Football has made in this densely populated, dynamic Japanese city. Like a number of Japanese players over the past few years, Genki will play with Melbourne club side Box Hill North, the first Japanese player from a non-Tokyo club to receive the scholarship.
Michito Sakaki, the Japanese footballer who played for Essendon in their exhibition game against Sydney earlier in the year, has kicked a goal in only his second match, playing for Wodonga Raiders in the Ovens & Murray Football League (reported by WFN on March 23, Michito goes semi-pro in Australia). He has started the season slowly but has shown some promise at this very early stage of his Aussie career.