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China Experiment Done?

  • Wednesday, May 06 2020 @ 03:04 pm ACST
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When Port Adelaide Powers’ president David Koch loosely indicated last week that the AFL’s China experiment may be over, the theory became the catalyst for some lively debate in recent days.

When interviewed by The Adelaide Advertiser, Koch did not say that the experiment was over. However, he did express doubt over Port Adelaide’s role in future Chinese fixtures.

He told the newspaper, ““I’ve actually got no idea (how that will look)…We will discuss with the AFL, State and Federal governments and our partners who support us in China about the future of it.”

He went on to add, ““Our whole China strategy originally was not predicated on having a game. We’ll have to assess that coming out (of the pandemic) but at the moment, in terms of priorities, it’s not a massive priority for us to make a decision on.

“If we do the game again at the same time (May), it’s well over a year away and a lot can happen in a year, so I’m not sure.”

Koch’s comments, whilst not ruling out further China games, hint that the club is having meaningful discussions about the future of the Chinese playing market. When factoring in the indefinite disruptions to international travel, potential for second or third wave virus threats, the economic status of the AFL and even the current rocky climate that exists between Australia and China, it is difficult to see games returning to China in the very near future.

As it is, 2020 is out, and 2021 would be dependent on many factors to be considered.

The uncertainty has created a huge amount of chatter across social media and community regarding replacement options. Followers across Europe believe that a premiership match somewhere in Europe would likely sell out and be a massive promotion for the code across Europe.

The game that is potentially nearer to being a solution, however, would be the AFL’s venture into the United States. For some time, pre-COVID-19 times, the potential for a match between Kevin Sheedy’s two babies – Greater Western Sydney Giants and Essendon – had been growing. The suggestion of a California match, likely Los Angeles or San Francisco, had grown many legs. Both clubs are keen and the AFL has not ruled the idea out.

Unofficially slated as an initiative for the 2022 season, the Giants v Bombers match might be fast-tracked to next year to fill the international void that would be left if China matches are on hold.

Of course, any venture into the United States would need to be done within the parameters of safety and economy. The nation is reeling from an unprecedented tragedy and despite moves to restart their economy, it might be a long time before anything as experimental as an AFL match be embraced.

There are even discussions across some social media platforms of having another look at New Zealand. This option would gather speed if a “travel bubble” between the two countries is created, allowing less restricted travel – the subject of a meeting yesterday between the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Australian National Cabinet. It is possible but will have many restrictions and caveats.

The bigger issue with this option would be how hard the AFL and other parties involved push the promotion of the game. Past attempts have lost momentum, yet with strong local competitions and a growing supporter base in New Zealand for the game, another crack might be sensible sooner rather than later.

The proposed match in Shanghai between Port Adelaide and St Kilda was one of the first victims of coronavirus. It was relocated to Marvel Stadium from Jiangwan Stadium prior to the postponement of the entire season.

Since then, relations with China and the ongoing virus have stalled any absolute plans for future games in China. By May 2021 the world may be different and a match in China could be back in the picture. However, that is more unlikely with each passing day.

The AFL has a long line of potential suitors in the meantime. Apart from those mentioned, Essendon has investigated the idea of matches in India for premiership points and there have been exhibition matches over the years in London and even Dubai. The AFL is not short of options.

They just need to be viable.