AFL academy 'an historic development'
Australian Rules football skirts the outer fringes of Chinese society, played only by expatriate communities in major cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Macau and viewed with some measure of bewilderment by the uninitiated.
But an ambitious plan by the sport's governing body hopes to change all that.
From July 9, the Australian Football League (AFL) will open its first academy in Guangzhou, putting 30 young local athletes through their paces over two weeks with a view to finding two who show enough potential for selection to the annual AFL pre-draft camp in October.
'This is an historic development for the game,' said Tony Woods, the AFL's international development manager. 'It's a great opportunity for young Chinese athletes and we have developed the programme. We will put them through with consideration for the different environment they come from, in terms of culture and in terms of their athletic pathway. It's a significant starting point for the game in China at a grass-roots level.'
Woods said the AFL was devising a 'holistic' approach for its academy graduates that would take in language and cultural programmes that would help any successful athletes adapt to their new environment.
The Guangzhou academy programme would also be based on the high-performance programme designed by the Australian Institute of Sport-AFL that annually leads 110 footballers to the national draft.
'This is just the start of our journey,' said Woods. 'We are committed to establishing this programme and we recognise it will be a long process.'
It is understood the AFL academy will be targeting university-age athletes for its Guangzhou academy. The league claims the sport is now played in various forms in 40 countries by 100,000 active participants.