How did AFL help Chinese migrants settle in?

When the first Chinese immigrants arrived in Australia during the gold rush, it was the unlikely sport of AFL that helped them to settle into their new home.

When the first Chinese immigrants arrived in Australia during the gold rush, it was the unlikely sport of AFL that helped them to settle into their new home and cement their place in the local community.

Sports Historian Rob Hess from Victoria University says the Chinese community were encouraged to contribute to charity fundraising matches.

At the time, 20 per cent of Victorian men were Chinese and locals taught them how to play the quintessential Australian sport.

“On the one hand you have some newspapers at the time expressing displeasure about the so called 'yellow peril',” says Rob Hess.

“On the other hand you look in country Victoria and see how European boys were being taught Chinese so they can barrack at the matches of Australian rules football that were played by Chinese teams in their towns. “

Kevin Esmore's family was originally from the Canton region of China. Soon after his great grandfather settled in Victoria the White Australia Policy was introduced.

But that didn't stop his uncle Phil from joining a community club in Ballarat and playing the alongside other Chinese and Australians teammates.

“It's very much a part of being a member of the community,” says Kevin. “Uncle Phillip was proud about his Chinese heritage and he was able to play in that team and was very skillful.”

More than a century later their love for Aussie rules football is being revitalised by Victoria's Southern Dragons team which is largely made up of Asian players.

But although Aussie rules may provide a platform for young Australians of different backgrounds to integrate into Australia, Rob Hess says it can sometimes also reflect negative social attitudes.

“There has been a bit of dark side to that with racial abuse and spectator abuse of players in... sport and football in particular is a mirror of society its not surprising that mirror holds itself up to racist attitudes which are in society and of course we're going to see that reflected in the sporting context as well. “

AFL Andrew Demetriou says the league is doing its best to stamp out racism in the sport.

“We need continuously to be vigilant on our racial vilification. There is no place for it in the community to lay it in the football field, and anything we can do from our multicultural perspective again helps educate and raise awareness.

"We actually believe in education and shifting people's attitude. The more we can do on this area, the more positive result there will be.”

Meanwhile, the AFL is also seeking innovative ways to tap into the world's most populous market - China.

Andrew Sawitsch was posted to China by the AFL to promote and develop the sport in China - four year's on - there are now amateur clubs in four of China's major cities.

“We had the first AFL game last year in Shanghai World Expo with 6000 people watching the game," Mr Sawitsch said.

"It is a second Chinese Australian rules football team's second visit to Australia. So I think we have a good foundation and will surely have a very successful future”.

Chinese involvement in Aussie rules has a long history starting from market gardeners and miners in the 19th century Victoria.

In Melbourne the journey continues with the Southern Dragons, who are hoping to set an example in inspiring other migrants to integrate into the mainstream culture through their beloved sport.

Source SBS

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