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.
The Japan AFL season promises to take the sport in Japan to new levels in 2006 following the spectacular results achieved by Michito Sakaki and Tsuyoshi Kase, who trained with Essendon throughout the pre-season. It is hoped that the publicity generated in the Australian and Japanese press will see more Japanese players take up the sport through upcoming recruiting days across Japanese universities.
The Jakarta Bintangs proved too strong for hosts the Bali Geckos in an all Indonesian final in the 2006 Santa Fe Bali Nines Masters Australian Rules Football Championships on Saturday March 13th. After a dominant first half, the Bintangs came out convincing winners in front of hundreds of spectators at the Canggu Club, Bali’s first private member’s sporting and recreational club.
Japan Samurai player Michito Sakaki has been recruited by the Wodonga Raiders from the Ovens and Murray Football League, around three hours north of Melbourne and generally regarded to be the strongest footy league outside Australia's capital cities. Sakaki has signed a contract with the Raiders that nets him a few hundred dollars a week, plus free accomodation, car and petrol. He is also teaching Japanese at a local high school and has helped create one of the biggest pre-footy-season buzzes the area has seen in recent times.
The Osaka Dingoes were founded a couple of years ago as the first Aussie Rules team in Japan's second largest city. To play matches, their squad spawned a second team, the Kansai Kangaroos (named after Osaka's province). This continued until late last year, when the Dingoes and Kangaroos went their separate ways - the Dingoes continuing as the Japan Osaka AFL with new squad the Kobe Blues, and the Kangaroos with their new league dubbed the AFL Kansai Japan, together with the expansion Kyoto Kockatwos.
In a tremendous milestone for the development of international Australian Football, Japanese pair Tsuyoshi Kase (on the left in adjacent photo) and Michito Sakaki (to the right) will play for Bendigo in the Victorian Football League in 2006. This possibility has been suggested in several media reports recently but former head of the Japan AFL, Troy Beard, has confirmed that both players will be listed with Bendigo.