It’s Superbowl time, an event that is increasingly watched around the world, especially Europe. International interest in gridiron,known by most outside the United States as American Football, has gradually risen, so much so that there’s even talk of a permanent team in London.
And now Australian Rules Football (AFL) also wants to get in on the act, looking to bring its own sport, which seems to theuninitiated a strange-looking hybrid of rugby and football, to the rest of the world.
The Aussies are targeting Asia, specifically China, and the idea is that if the Australian game can take off there, then the sky really is the limit.
It’s a long shot, but that’s the idea. In October 2011, the mayor of Melbourne, the heartland of the game, opened a $1.5 million AFL stadium in the city of Tianjin, just to the east of Beijing.
Robert Doyle announced that the port city would be AFL’s home in China.
“Melbourne is the sports capital of Australia and Melbournians are especially passionate about their football. China is an awakening giant on the sports stage, and we’re delighted to now be sharing our love for this sport with the people of Tianjin,” the Lord Mayor said.
“We see China as an important and growing market for the game, and this purpose built AFL oval will enable more Chinese people to play and enjoy Australian football and showcase their talent,” he said.
There was an exhibition game played between the Melbourne Demons and the Brisbane Lions in 2010 in Shanghai, and one game a week is shown on Chinese television.
There are also plans for two teams from down under to play a competitive league match by 2016, according to Kevin Sheedy, coach of a Sydney club.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to have two clubs who are really keen and driving it. It has to sit within our fixturing here, and in the end it has to be a joint decision and endorsed by the AFL Commission.
“Absolutely, playing a game there for premiership points in the future is a consideration.”
It remains to be seen if it will catch on, but the 2010 exhibition was watched by around seven thousand people – not bad at all.
AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick believes that there’s certainly room for growth for the game in the Middle Kingdom.
“We actually had quite good penetration in the U.S. in the ’80s but we never took advantage of it. I think this is a small step, but…I think it has got some potential.”