By Jamie Samual

In a remarkable display of dedication and determination, the Guangzhou Scorpions Australian Football Club is leading the charge in reviving Australian Rules Football (AFL) in Guangdong Province, China. Club President Michael Ouzas and the Scorpions Committee, which includes highly respected long-time football ambassador Howard Zhang and longtime player Jacky Ou, are committed to sustaining and strengthening the sport to ensure its growth in the region.

Photo from 2021 fixture GDAFL games of local players fighting it out in harsh summer heat.

Since its inception in the 1980s, AFL has slowly gained traction in China, with the Hong Kong Dragons playing a pivotal role within the expatriate community in Southern China. Fast forward a couple of decades to 2010, the Guangzhou Scorpions, who emerged from a group of enthusiasts walking to their sponsor pub, McCawley’s Pub in Guangzhou, continues to this day.

2023 Guangzhou Scorpions training. Held each Saturday morning in the CBD centre. Veteran players and new players are welcomed to the club.

Through initiatives like Auskick, school and community engagement programs, the club is nurturing young talent and promoting grassroots participation throughout the greater Guangzhou region. The club volunteers invest great time, effort and love for the game in the development of local players, and the Guangdong Australian Football League (GDAFL) positions itself as a driving force behind the growth of AFL in the South China region.

Historically, the league received crucial support from Port Adelaide between 2014 and 2018, recognizing their efforts in cultivating a new generation of footballers in China. The program witnessed children from primary schools to universities actively participating in AFL programs such as training, AFL game social events, and playing competitive matches. Even during the challenging times brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Guangzhou Scorpions and the GDAFL adapted, continuing with training sessions, playing competitive games and re-establishing connections with other regions, such as Hong Kong.

Junior AFL Auskick in Guangzhou coached by Howard Zhang, a long time original Chinese player with 13 years of service to AFL in China.

Photo from Asian Championships in Pattaya, Thailand. Team China is represented by local and expat players from Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, Plus a special ex-AFL player, Dane Swan represents the Dragons.

Photo of the 2018 SCAFL Grand Final in Hong Kong. Scorpions celebrated winning the plate final in hot conditions.

At the heart of community football in Guangzhou lies the Guangdong AFL, comprising of teams like the senior team the Guangzhou Scorpions, Guangdong Sports University Seagulls, Huizhou Hawks, Dongguan Blues, Foshan Lightning Wolves, and the newly introduced Guanhui “Seahawks” community team. These teams collectively form the GDAFL, and are the driving force behind the league’s continuing presence, dedication and commitment to rebuilding the AFL community in Southern China.

Photo in 2020, mid pandemic, with travel restricted, GDAFL was in full swing with the main three clubs of Foshan Wolves in red, Guangzhou Scorpions in yellow and University Seagulls in blue posing for a team photo.

Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the league, but from the work that the Guangzhou Scorpions and the GDAFL have done, football in the region has been preserved. Guangzhou, the league’s stronghold, experienced minimal outbreaks and avoided strict lockdowns until December 2022. Despite reduced sponsorships and funding, President Ouzas and the committee have stepped up as volunteers, dedicating their time to training, developing, and mentoring players. Grassroots participation continues to flourish, with an increase in locals, including women and children, getting involved in the sport.

2011 SCAFL game against Vietnam.

Pictured left is the inaugural Scorpions President, Grant Dooley, who set up the club to what it is today.

With President Ouzas at the helm, the Guangzhou Scorpions and the GDAFL is focused on rebuilding and continuing the longevity of the league. Over the next few years, the club and the league aims to regain its pre-pandemic momentum. President Ouzas envisions strengthening ties with other regions, particularly Hong Kong, playing matches there, and competing in championships. Additionally, the GDAFL is dedicated to developing university players who can proudly represent China on the international AFL stage.

Reviving AFL in China is not without its challenges. Individual sports like table tennis have traditionally held a strong presence in the country, making it essential to foster a team-oriented mindset and encourage camaraderie among players. Despite these obstacles, President Ouzas and the committee remain motivated, witnessing firsthand the growth and development of players and the positive impact AFL has on the community.

Photo from a wet 2016 SCAFL game in Guangzhou, the development team, the Guangdong University Seagulls players enjoying the conditions.

The Scorpions and the GDAFL’s commitment to rebuilding the AFL community in Southern China is inspiring. With their unwavering passion and dedication, the league is well on its way to cementing AFL’s place in Chinese sports culture once again.