Contributed by: Brett Northey Thursday, May 18 2006 @ 11:58 am ACST
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.
Another positive aspect is the suggestion that the first exhibition could be a 9-a-side game, given field restrictions. So many proponents of international footy have argued that to develop the game people must think outside the square (or rather, "think inside the large oval", so to speak). Just as the AFL has now embraced non-contact Recreational Football as a summer sport, so too is traditional resistance to less than 18-a-side softening. The stated aim is for a full sized match in 2007, and it seems desirable that the game always strive for the full oval, but it should never stand in the way of footy being seeded in new places.
The tour will focus on Tianjin but will probably include Beijing and Shanghai. If 2006 and 2007 go well, 2008 may see a pre-season NAB Cup match staged in China. Melbourne is also hoping to produce local players quickly enough so that in 2008 China can participate in international Australian Football's showpiece, the International Cup. This would be a huge achievement but anything is possible if enough resources are found, be it from Australia or China.
An extensive wrap of Melbourne's plans can be found in Exhibition China[*1] .