By Grant Keys, AFL Asia President

Footy in Asia has come a long way over the past 10 years that I’ve been involved with the sport. More expats, locals, kids, masters and now women are playing the game in Asia than ever before, the choice and quality of tournaments, the grounds and facilities we play on and the standard of the competition continues to improve each year.

Over 500 footballers competed at our biggest ever Asian Champs in Saigon last year, with a massive 70 being identified as “local players”, up from 40 the year before. Our Clubs are seeing the benefits and enjoyment that comes from local player development programs, with locals not just making up the numbers anymore, but making important contributions on and off field to the Club’s success and its ability to attract corporate, government and AFL funding.

While Asian Champs will always primarily be a fun event for social footballers, its continued growth and prestige has put pressure on AFL Asia to take the competition more seriously. While we do not want to take any of the fun away from the competition, it’s time that we provided Clubs with clearer rules and guidelines about how the tournament is conducted and how the participants should conduct themselves.

Since the first draft of a new rule book was released to Clubs, it’s been great to see the passion people have for footy in Asia through the discussion that’s already taken place about its contents. At the forefront of this is the new rules around locals playing at Champs and the desire by AFL Asia’s Clubs to encourage and foster this exciting development through local player quotas.

This is not something that has just come out of the woodwork. At the 2014 Asian Champs Presidents’ meeting, local player quotas by 2017 were agreed as an aspirational goal to inspire more clubs to take on the challenge of recruiting and developing locals. Since that meeting, many of our clubs have been investing heavily in their own local player development programs in anticipation of a move towards quotas.

At last year’s Asian Champs Presidents’ meeting, the issue was again at the forefront of the agenda, with the Cambodian Eagles tabling a motion to introduce a 2-player local quota at the 2017 Champs. Nine clubs voted in favour of this motion, none against, with two abstaining and one absent.

As changes to Asian Champs require a 2/3 majority, unfortunately not all Clubs may agree with every motion that is passed. While I know at least two clubs object to the new rules and will struggle to meet this requirement this year, AFL Asia has been sent a clear message by the majority of our Clubs about the direction they want footy in Asia to move in. And it’s AFL Asia’s obligation to honour that.

We knew that some Clubs would struggle to fill the requirement for locals in Manila this year. For this reason, we have introduced flexibility during this transition phase, allowing teams to recruit local players from other AFL Asia Clubs as in interim measure.

We have importantly also included a clause on exemptions, noting that AFL Asia may, on a case by case basis, waive certain requirements if Clubs are seen to be undertaking development activities within their regions, but for whatever reason just haven’t been able to secure local players this year.

I am very proud of how all of our clubs connect with their local communities and there is certainly no question of clubs having an open and welcoming environment for all players, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, to come and play footy. AFL Asia’s primary objective is to grow footy in Asia and we just want to see a genuine effort from all Clubs in support of this. I encourage all Clubs to continue to highlight these activities in their communications and use AFL Asia’s networks and reach to help you get the word out about them.

Process from here

While AFL Asia has been given a clear directive from Clubs on the issue of local player quotas, there are details such as penalties which have not yet been discussed outside of the subcommittee in any great detail.

The attached “Match Rules and Regulations” document has been developed by the Asian Champs Subcommittee to provide this detail. This is based upon the rule book for the AFL International Cup, with similar definitions used for eligibility of local players.

While the AFL Asia Committee has determined the vote for the 2-player local quota is binding and will be implemented at this year’s Champs, we invite formal feedback from each of our member Clubs’ Committees on the document and any areas of concern. These must be emailed directly to me from the Club President by Monday 11th September. Based on feedback, we would be happy to organise a final discussion between President’s before the Asian Champs Subcommittee approves and posts the final version of the Rules for 2017 Champs on the AFL Asia website by end of September.

If any Clubs have further areas of concern, they will be welcome to move a motion to amend the rules for the 2018 Champs at the Asian Champs Presidents’ meeting in Manila on 20th October, with a 2/3 majority required to effect change.

Please be assured AFL Asia’s team of volunteers is doing what we can to grow the sport in Asia as best we can with the limited resources at our disposal. Thanks to all Clubs and players for your passion and continued support and I hope to see you in Manila!

Download: Asian Champs Match Rules and Regulations

Visit our dedicated 2017 AFL Asia Championships page for more information about this year’s tournament in Manila, hosted by the Philippines Australian Football League, including the Champs Prospectus and draft draw.