When last year’s inaugural GD-AFL season ended, the Dongguan Nan Hua Giants limped away beaten and bruised in last place. That’s because Aussie rules football, or footy, is a new sport to China, but Guangdong and its new league, is hoping to one day take an oval foothold in the region.
The Giants, as they are known in the GD-AFL because they are sponsored in name by Greater Western Sydney, have played since 2012 at the Nan Hua University of Technology. That was before the Guangdong league, when they were known as the Dongguan Blue Panthers. These days they still play in the blue and white jumpers during home games.
For inter-league away games, the team has new orange jumpers bearing the likeness of their big brothers from the Australian professional league. These similarities are no accident. The GD-AFL focuses on the development of new players with means of sparking spectator interest for the sport.
The game is hard hitting, fast paced and high scoring, which is one of the reasons Australian football has the third most spectators per game of any sport in the world. This type of excitement is why the AFL wants to spread the game worldwide and sees China as the land of opportunity.
Footy is a physical contact sport that Darren Whitfield, vice president and treasurer AFL-Asia and president of South China AFL, said is “a cross between soccer, rugby and basketball. Add a lot of fun and you’ve got Aussie Rules.”
Over the next five years the SC-AFL and the GD-AFL growth plan includes recruiting new talent and increasing the skill level of current players. They also want to create more local and domestic leagues throughout China, which will help develop players for the Chinese National team to compete in international cups in 2017 and 2020.
The future of the city’s footy is not written in stone, but it seems to be building momentum. Howard Zhang, operations manager for the SC-AFL and coordinator for the GD-AFL, is expecting Dongguan to shirt two teams next season. “So many students graduated from the school and all the graduated players will organize a new team,” said Zhang.
He told us that the college team will keep the Blue Panther moniker and the graduating club will move ahead as the Giants, but both teams will remain headquartered on university grounds if the plans come through.
“The Dongguan and the Huizhou teams are not so strong because the Guangzhou teams train so hard,” he said. To balance the league, organizers have created a system of play that matches the less experienced teams against each other, making the Huizhou Hawks Dongguan’s biggest rival.
Bringing some pride and face home to Dongguan, the two teams round one match-up on November 1, ended in victory for the Giants.
There are three distinctly different leagues that offer different levels of ability and AFL competition throughout China and Asia. The local Guangdong league currently hosts five teams, including, along with Dongguan and Huizhou, the Guangzhou Scorpions, Guangzhou Sports University Seagulls and the Zhujiang Pearl River Power.
As with all sports the different positions have different responsibilities within the game. Players can run with the ball for an unlimited amount of time but must bounce the ball or touch it to the ground once every 15 meters. The ball can be propelled in any direction to a teammate either by kicking or with a handball, which involves holding the football in one hand and hitting it with the clenched fist of the other. It cannot be thrown under any circumstances. Goals are scored by kicking the ball through the goal post for 6 points or through the behind posts for 1.
Standings (at press time)
After Round 2
Guangzhou Sports University Seagulls 4-0
Pearl River Power 3-1
Guangzhou Scorpions 2-2
Dongguan Nan Hua Giants 1-3
Huizhou Hawks 0-4
December 6 – Guangzhou – Guangzhou Sports University
13:00 Power vs Seagulls 13:50 Scorpions vs Giants
14:40 Hawks vs Seagulls 15:30 Scorpions vs Power
16:20 Hawks vs Giants
January 10 – Guangzhou – Guangzhou Sports University
13:00 Scorpions vs Power 13:50 Hawks vs Seagulls
14:40 Giants vs Power 15:30 Seagulls vs Scorpions
16:20 Hawks vs Giants
March 14 – Dongguan – Humen Sports Park (TBC)
13:00 Power vs Giants 13:50 Seagulls vs Scorpions
14:40 Hawks vs Giants 15:30 Seagulls vs Power
16:20 Hawks vs Scorpions
Date and venue To Be Confirmed.