Australia’s innovative football code is probably the world’s most watched on a population basis.
The AFL has staged many exhibition matches in other countries over the 150 years that Australians have been enamoured with the sport. Yet no other country has adopted our game. Why?
The AFL (Australian Football League) football world will be watching this new initiative of the South Australian Team Port Power (Port Adelaide) with great interest. Will it be just another one-off event to further showcase Aussie Rules as a spectator sport, or can enthusiastic and talented indigenous Australians create enough interest to spawn a viable competition there?
The problem is, as I see it, that our 18 team competition administration, is monopolized by the powerful Victorian teams. They are motivated by a desire to maximize profit rather than to grow the sport at grass-roots level.
Cricket is played in the back-yard, on quiet streets, and on the beach with bat and ball, and any convenient object as stumps. Soccer is played by boys and girls around the world wherever there is a park or dusty field, using makeshift goals.
It would seem that to play AFL football you need carefully cultivated turf, complex goal posts, and a large stadium.
To its shame, the AFL competition does not field teams from two small Australian States, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, where there is much loyal and enthusiastic support for the game. Instead many of Australia’s best footballers have been recruited from the Northern Territory in particular, to bolster southern teams in more populous locations.
PORT Adelaide faces a greater challenge establishing suitable turf than signing up an opponent for its great Chinese adventure next year.
Power president David Koch on Thursday inspected the 40,000-capacity Shanghai Stadium, knowing the refit of the venue — removing the athletics track and laying out a field safe for AFL players — is the last piece to solve his Chinese puzzle.
Port Adelaide is expected to convince an AFL rival to give up a home game — Gold Coast is the most-likely contender — to play the first AFL game for premiership points in China in May or June next season, around a mid-season bye. Melbourne is another contender.
None of the Power’s 11 annual home games at Adelaide Oval will be sacrificed for the club’s rich “China Strategy”, which has been boosted by a major Chinese benefactor signing a three-year sponsorship deal worth at least $1 million a season.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said “the commercial reality of China” would ensure AFL clubs ignored the usual backlash for selling home games.
“We have willing teams, we have an agreement with a (second) club, which I won’t talk to, and we have agreed to do it,” he told media in China, according to the AFL website.