We’re all well aware of the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on a global front throughout 2020 and football in Asia has been no different. Having said that, our clubs have been innovative and ahead of the curve in how they’ve approached their core business, with domestically-based footy the silver lining outcome and could quite possibly be the driving force behind increased participation in 2021 and beyond.

Statistically AFL Asia recorded a 5% decrease in active participants which is no major surprise, given the lack of football able to played on a regular basis. Participation of our great game at an international level, however took a massive hit directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a staggering 67% decrease in active participants. In comparison, AFL Asia has come out of 2020 relatively unscathed and has a huge upside and ceiling for potential participation growth in the future.

Whilst most countries within the region literally stalled at the gates to get their football programs, tours and club initiatives off the ground, it’s important to celebrate those nations and clubs who were able to reinvigorate, innovate and in some circumstances resurrect their club/countries football program out of necessity.

The Macau Lightning relaunched their Auskick program in 2020, which is outstanding to see and have reaped the rewards on the active participation front, with an impressive increase of 150% over the 12 month period. A slight increase of senior footballers will also benefit one of Asia’s smallest and proudest clubs as they look to build on their Asian Champs Division 3 runner-up finish in 2019.

Fantastic to see the Macau Lightning relaunch their Auskick program in 2020! Can they build on their 2019 Asian Champs Division 3 runner-up success in 2021? (2019 team pictured here)

AFL Pakistan have developed a much closer working relationship with AFL Asia over the past 12-18 months, however their best work has been focusing on the growth the game at ground level, which has seen their participation skyrocket within passionate football circles. The overall active participation has increased by an astonishing 91% over the past 12 months, whilst female participation has increased by an incredible 139%!

AFL Pakistan has recorded a phenomenal 139% increase in their female participation in 2020, whilst their overall participation grew by an impressive 91%!

The Beijing Bombers bounced back from the brink during COVID-19 and in doing so have rejuvenated their club with a 72% increase in active participants! (Read more here) Whilst also resurrecting their club, the Bombers have been a key player in developing a more united China club-based synergy with the Bombers, Guangzhou Scorpions and Shanghai Tigers playing a mixed game in Nangjing in September and a tri-series tournament, which is to be played on December 19th in Guangzhou.

The Beijing Bombers not only resurrected their club, but they also recorded a 72% increase in participation! The Bombers have been a key player in unifying footy in China and the synergy built between them, the Guangzhou Scorpions and the Shanghai Tigers!

The Myanmar Shwechinthes were building nicely until COVID-19 stalled their season. The nation’s capital of Yangon was buzzing with an increased number of local players and a strengthened relationship with their local Gaelic club. The Myanmar Shwechinthes posted a promising 54% increase in participation for the season, which will provide them with a platform for further growth in 2021!

The Myanmar Shwechinthes’ local participation numbers and a strengthened relationship with their local Gaelic club were the key contributing factors to their club increasing their participation by a promising 54% before COVID-19 stalled their season.

Football within India continues to flourish and is passionately played in 11 Indian states. AFL India recorded a 20% increase in active participants during 2020, which is a very healthy rise to say the least. The fact they actually had an increase from 6,289 active participants in 2019 to 7,524 in 2020 highlights their growth more holistically and paints a far more impressive picture. We look forward to continuing to build our working relationship and rapport with AFL India moving forward.

AFL India’s participation continues to grow at a rapid rate with their total participants growing from 6,289 in 2019 to 7,524 in 2020! Football is currently being played in 11 Indian states.

As you can see, football clubs and leagues within the region are well placed to come out of COVID-19 and hit the ground running, with an increased focus on building the game at a domestic level, given that international travel and the ability to tour is unlikely to occur throughout most of 2021. Domestically-based focused football, school and community programs and building stronger relationships with local Gaelic and rugby clubs will be at the front of mind for the Asian region, which in turn will project towards a steady and healthy increase of participation in 2021.

The Vietnam Swans 2020 Hanoi AFL 4 mixed gender teams, 6 rounds + finals AFLX season has been highly successful example of how domestic football could be played in the region in 2021.