Contributed by: Aaron Richard Thursday, October 20 2005 @ 01:37 am ACST
AFL club Melbourne recently made the news after announcing it was investigating playing an exhibition match in the Chinese metropolis Tianjin. The Demons are now about six weeks away from announcing a five-year development plan, supported by the City of Melbourne and the Tianjin regional government, according to General Manager of Business Development Shane Anderson.
As reported earlier on WFN[*1] , a meeting between sister cities Melbourne and Tianjin had presented the possibility of an exhibition match being played by the Demons with the support of the respective local governments.
Since then, the concept has grown to where a broader development plan is being discussed. Shane Anderson from the Demons was in China for the discussions in Tianjin, as well as meeting with representatives of the Shanghai Tigers and Beijing Bombers, and since returning to Australia has been involved with planning the next step.
With China home to the world's second largest (and fastest-growing) economy, the trip has attracted considerable interest from corporate and governmental sectors, Anderson saying "it's too early to call it support, but there has been business interest on both the Chinese and Australian sides, as well as the City of Melbourne and the (Victorian) state government". He also mentions that there has been contact at a federal level.
"Obviously China and probably Indonesia would be big targets for the future expansion of Aussie Rules, for geographical reasons as well as the vast populations they have".
Although plans are still being developed, the Demons are hoping for an exhibition match in the near future, with the possibility of the experiment extending to pre-season matches. The club are hoping for the experiment to extend well beyond a once-off, with meetings currently hoping to establish an initial five-year plan which would see local development programs supported by the club.
"Nothing is confirmed as yet, but we do want some involvement by the end of next year. This may be an exhibition match or simply running clinics, depending on a few factors. One of the biggest problems is finding a suitable stadium for the matches, as most of the larger stadiums are designed for soccer".
Finding an appropriate field is a familiar problem the world over, but if Tianjin can't provide the location, the Demons haven't ruled out playing matches in Beijing or Shanghai. Anderson spent some time with the Shanghai and Beijing clubs while visiting China, and although these clubs are currently predominantly based around expat Australians, he says the Demons would definitely be able to use the clubs for assistance.
"Our first port of call will remain Tianjin, but we're pursuing a number of options and Shanghai or Beijing may present an opportunity for exhibition matches". He notes that if a Chinese national side for the International Cup were to become a reality, having a number of localities actively developing the game would be a massive boost.
"I'd assume a Chinese side for the International Cup would be high on the AFL's wishlist, and I suppose they would be an outside chance to attend in 2008... It would be a definite advantage if they had a number of clubs from which to pick players".
"We're actively discussing a variety of activites and want to have an announcement made before Christmas".