Adelaide claims big win as AFL toasts China debut

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, May 15, 2017
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Australian Rules football made its top-flight debut at the far-flung frontier of Shanghai yesterday, with Port Adelaide Power celebrating a dominant 72-point win over the Gold Coast Suns for a welcome return on its huge Chinese investment.

Backed by Chinese property and mining companies, Port shelled out some 3 million Australian dollars (US$2.21 million) of the estimated A$4 million cost of the match, the Australian Football League's first regular season game outside its home market and New Zealand.

The Power paid the Suns A$500,000 to shift their home match away from the Gold Coast to the Jiangwan Stadium in northern Shanghai, while the AFL and Australia's tourism authority also backed the push for a slice of China's huge market.

A bruising, high-tempo game played on cricket ground-sized pitches, AFL is followed with religious fervor in Australia's southern states but is almost unknown overseas and often baffling to the uninitiated.

There was undoubtedly some confusion in the crowd of 10,000 at the stadium and for those who tuned in to one of the three local TV channels that broadcast the match.

"They're certainly watching, there's a bit of ooh-ing and ahh-ing," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said of the local spectators in the terraces.

"I don't know if they're getting it," he laughed in a TV interview during the half-time break.

After a scrappy opening littered with skill errors, Port quickly took control and blew the Suns away, booting 16 goals to 4 in the 110-38 win.

Rangy Power forward Justin Westhoff can claim the best goal ever kicked in China with a brilliant volley late in the second quarter that somehow dribbled through the goal-posts from the tightest of angles. "I think I just pulled it out of my backside but I'll take it," the bearded veteran said of the goal.

A 147-year-old team that won the national championship in 2004, Port sponsors a fledgling Australian Rules amateur league in southern China and has pushed AFL programs at over a dozen local schools.

Seeing little room to grow at home, Port launched its China engagement strategy in 2014 and claims it has already reaped A$6 million in new revenues.

Port declared the match a success months ago, and about 5,000 of its fans travelled to Shanghai.

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