The Development Grants Program has been formulated by AFL Asia to help clubs across Asia grow the game of Australian Rules Football. Clubs are invited to apply for grants based on their potential to grow the game in accordance with AFL Asia’s six Strategic Plan pillars set forth in the body’s 2021-2025 strategic plan. These pillars include Participation Programs, Community Engagement, Organization & People, Engagement, Commercial and Governance. Each of these key pillars are areas the Vietnam Swans have been striving to improve so naturally the Development Grants Program presented an amazing opportunity for the club to enhance its growth of the game within the country.
Naturally, upon news of the DGP, the Swans were very excited. A huge part of the club’s focus is on growing the game and grants like this can help to remove some of the barriers to development the Swans frequently face. The club has had some success in junior development in previous periods, typically when a player or players have some young kids of their own and wants them getting the Auskick experience they would typically enjoy back home. However, due to the transient nature of expat life in Asia and limitations on time, equipment and field hire, plus other expenses these programs often run sporadically and have stalled several times over the years. The Swans grant application centred around tackling these challenges and going beyond the expat space to introduce Australia’s signature sport to Vietnamese youth with a vision to them representing their country in a Swans jumper one day.
The Swans 2021 grant application contained the following project description:
The overarching aim of this project is to provide the opportunity/pathway for the youth of Vietnam (aged 5- 17) to learn, enjoy and play AFL football within the local community, but also provide sustainability for growth of the game to the senior Vietnamese national / local teams, both men and women.
The Club has a significant challenge in the ‘grass roots’ development of AFL in Vietnam where, due to the lack of well organised, consistent and sustainable feeder programs, the Club have lost many, if not all of our younger local kids to other sports. More importantly, we have lost that connection to the local community in being able to introduce the sport to such a young, vibrant, up and coming country that already has strong connections to Australia.
This project gives us the opportunity to re-establish the AusKick program (5 – 12 years of age, girls & boys) here in Vietnam and execute our plans for the establishment of the Vietnam Swans Junior Academy (13 – 17 years of age) as an additional feeder to both the local league set up in 2021 and the National AFL teams that compete internationally. A future goal would be to have the Junior Academy team compete internationally as well against the likes of a Cambodia Academy team.
With the grant’s approval, the Swans were able to achieve huge advances in the junior football development space during the 2022 season in three key areas, equipment to be used in programs and establishing two vibrant programs in the Swans key cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In all, around 80 predominately Vietnamese kids aged between 7 and 17 were able to discover the magic of Australian Rules Footy. By far the most junior participation ever seen in the Swans history!
Junior footy needs its own specific equipment and sourcing this is often one of the biggest barriers to getting junior programs up and running. The Swans had been lucky enough to source 100 Auskick packs (footy, bag, other goodies for each Auskick participant) in Australia but freight for this type of bulky package had always been a prohibitive cost. With the grant’s support the Swans were able to bring this and other supplies from Sherrin Australia and get them shipped into Vietnam and procure some local items like portable goal posts, witches hats, drink bottles, bibs and more. In all supplies for three years’ worth of programs seeing our needs through until the beginning of 2025 at least were procured and transported to Vietnam. This would be the major up front expense in this first year but it helps to set us up with the equipment to run junior programs for years to come.
Hanoi Pathways Program
The Swans wanted to cover the full range of development from younger primary school aged kids up to teenagers ready to take up training with the adult Swans. This was done in two programs held in parallel with AFL Asia’s Development Grants supporting the costs of field hire and transportation for kids to the fields and back each week. The teenage pathway program was created in partnership with KOTO (Know One, Teach One) an incredible Australian -linked NGO in Vietnam that helps needy kids develop the skills for careers in the hospitality industry. The kids in their program were invited to join Vietkick each Saturday (held just before senior training to maximise volunteer coach availability from within the Swans playing ranks). With around 25 attendees each week (mostly from KOTO but others were welcome to join) the program created an instant energy and even saw a visit from the Australian Women’s Volleyball team when in town for a tournament!
Every second week a younger session was run for kids around 8-12 years old, it was attended by kids of players and others in the international school community alongside the older KOTO kids sessions. These sessions saw up to 20 participants.
Saigon Vietkick Program
With Saigon’s former Saigon Colts program stopping in 2017 junior footy had come to a stand still in Vietnam’s most populous city. With the availability of equipment came fresh volunteer energy led by Swans superstar Rusty Clarke, fellow Aussie parents and Swans players. Grant funds were used to cover field hire expenses for the program in the heart of District 2 (expat centre in HCMC) and marketing efforts attracting at least 20 attendees each week. Pleasingly, the program was able to attract both Australian and Vietnamese programs with a roughly 50% split. The program culminated at the Vietnam Swans AFL Grand Final Party where participants were given free entry and families were able to watch the AFL Grand Final with the Swans family and friends. All in all, through this first year a new sub-section of the AFL community in Saigon has been created with a base that could continue to grow in years to come!
With these successes the club has continued to follow the Development Grants Program and has focused on the feasibility of creating an AFL Vietnam entity and getting some human resources to take the next steps to bridge the junior programs with local tertiary institutions towards actively playing football with the senior Vietnam Swans both in domestic leagues and internationally. We’re looking forward to many years of ongoing success as the Vietnamese continue to discover the magic of our favourite sport!