Australian Football League to play a regular season game in China
Updated: 2016-04-15 09:36
MELBOURNE -- Australia's most popular sporting competition, the Australian Football League (AFL), will play a regular season game in China next year in a groundbreaking development for the indigenous code.
On Thursday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan signed a memorandum of understanding with real-estate developer Shanghai Cred to stage a match in China, at an as-yet unnamed venue, in 2017.
Port Adelaide, which has pioneered the AFL's expansion into the world's most populous nation, will be one of the two clubs to partake in the China match, a home-and-away contest for premiership points.
"Today is a day that has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and to be honest, a day that many thought would never happen," Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas said in Shanghai on Thursday.
"I'm incredibly proud to have a signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Port Adelaide Football Club that ensures we will do everything possible to play a game for premiership points here in Shanghai as early as next season."
The venue and Port's opponent for the match is yet to be determined, but McLachlan and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were both in Shanghai for the historic announcement.
"This is a very exciting day for a very exciting game in the most exciting place in the world," Turnbull told reporters in Shanghai.
"This will further develop the AFL code in China."
The multi-million-dollar agreement was signed at Shanghai's Fairmont Peace Hotel as part of "Australia Week in China" 2016.
It is believed the game will be played during next season's bye round, and not count as a Port Adelaide home game.
Earlier this month, the South Australian club signed a landmark agreement with China Central Television (CCTV) to broadcast three games into the nation this season.
Last Friday night, Port Adelaide wore jerseys emblazoned with Mandarin text in their Chinese TV debut against Essendon, which they comfortably won by 61 points.
"Our partnership with CCTV is more than just entertainment; it is about understanding. Through our regular AFL programs on CCTV, the viewers in China will see more of Australia and learn more about our culture and Australian life," Thomas said.
As part of their partnership, Port Adelaide be also involved in producing the CCTV broadcast of China-based AFL games, hold annual training camps in Shanghai, sponsor local Australian football teams and conduct business events around the Asian country.
The AFL conducted a pre-season exhibition match at Shanghai's Jiang Wan Stadium in 2010. The clash, nicknamed the "Shanghai showdown", drew around 7,000 curious fans.
Producing an AFL game in Shanghai would present a major logistical challenge to the AFL, given it lies 7,500 kilometers away from Adelaide.
But McLachlan said the AFL would help Port during the gruelling process.
"Port Adelaide, through the efforts of chairman David Koch and chief executive Keith Thomas, has done much outstanding work in the last four years to rebuild its position and profile within our competition," McLachlan said on Thursday.
"The AFL will work with Port Adelaide to explore all available options to take a first game for premiership points into China."
It would be the first AFL match ever held in the northern hemisphere for premiership points.