While the dust has well and truly settled on the 2022 season, AFL Asia are proud to announce that our total participation has increased by 22% over the past 12 months, with further growth on the horizon in 2023, as football has consolidated in most countries now that pandemic restrictions have been eased.

Organic growth in existing markets, an investment in local and junior development programs and the effective use of AFL Asia’s Development Grants Program (DGP) to create sustainable participation in new markets have all played their part in seeing football flourishing again region-wide.

AFL Asia’s total participation data indicates that we’ve had 9,785 participants region-wide experiencing our great game during the 2022 season compared to 8,009 participants in 2021.

We are predicting another sharp rise in 2023 as a number of countries such as China, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia, Myanmar and Nepal were severely restricted or unable to participate at all during the 2022 season for a variety of different reasons.

The Cambodian Eagles, Cambodian Apsaras and Phnom Penh Auskick have had a superb season, which has seen their participation numbers grow at a phenomenal rate, with an enormous 132% increase in participants over the past 12 months and 98% increase compared to their 2019 pre-COVID participation.

Female participation alone has grown by 275%, with over 95% of those new participants coming from the local Khmer community. A hugely important and impactful storyline that can be derived from within those statistics is that the sport of Australian football has been a vehicle for change for local Cambodian females.

The Cambodian Apsaras had the highest contingency of local players of any women’s team to have ever played at an Asian Championships this year and are inspiring and empowering a local generation of women’s footballers through Australia’s greatest game.

Leadership, empowerment, learning and acquiring the necessary life and social skills to create a generation of change amongst local Cambodian women has been super inspiring to say the least.

One of the driving forces behind the Cambodian Apsaras powerful narrative is their current Apsaras’ champion playing coach and outgoing Cambodian Eagles President Hannah Slaughter, who celebrated the proud club’s recent achievements.

“This year we have seen the new generation of Khmer players enter into the club, with many of them making it onto the starting line up for both the Eagles and Apsaras. We have fostered partnerships with two new organisations; MAP (Mothers Against Poverty) Cambodia and CCF (Cambodia Children’s Fund). Clinics run at both locations have been a success, with the majority of our 30+ rookies coming from these sessions. The club also provides travel subsidies to the girls from MAP to get to trainings and games. They have to catch two ferries and a tuk tuk, traveling over an hour each way. It’s quite the journey but their dedication is unparalleled.”

“The club also wanted to boost Khmer representation on our committee and with a number of positions opening up this year it came at the perfect time. We welcome Thai, Seangny and Nuth onto the board who are all original Apsaras and will be entering into their 6th season as players. We hope they bring their passion for AFL, but most importantly, their knowledge and understanding of the needs and wants of our Khmer players, along with helping bridge the gap to invite even more players to our club from local communities.”

AFL Pakistan have had an outstanding season and are growing the game and its participation level at an exceptional rate, with an impressive 45% increase over the past 12-month period and at an exponential level from 1,350 participants in 2019 to 4,170 participants in 2022.

A passionate and committed executive board, a willingness to get their coaching and umpiring ranks upskilled and certified and their ability to grow the game right across their vast country has been the cornerstone to AFL Pakistan’s success.

The Pakistan Markhors participated in their inaugural Asian Championships in Division 3 in 2022 and entered the tournament with high hopes and a strong belief. Miraculously, they came from the clouds to record an inspirational victory in the Division 3 Grand Final that instantly became folklore in the AFL Asia history books, with the players themselves becoming national heroes on their return home.

The Markhors enjoying their Division 3 victory!

The Vietnam Swans are one of Asia’s most inclusive clubs that provide opportunities for participants from a wide-range of diverse and socioeconomic backgrounds which has helped shape the club into a powerhouse both on and off the field.

The development of the Hanoi Football League and Saigon Football Leagues on a domestic front, reestablishing their Vietkick programs in conjunction with AFL Asia’s Development Grants Program, investing into ongoing development programs and initiatives within local communities, such as the Centre for Social Protection of Children (Vung Tau Orphanage) and KOTO (Education and Employment initiative), as well as building a strong rapport with the GAA have all played their part in achieving the Vietnam Swans consolidated and sustainable success.

Outgoing Vietnam Swans President, Eric Kerrison, has been an awe inspiring and innovative leader, who’s been superbly organized, approachable and forthright in his decision-making. His legacy will be widely celebrated for generations to come and humbly summed up his proud club’s recent developments and success.

“Our club is an inclusive club that treats everyone like they’re part of a family. We are in a strong financial position and our mantra is to heavily invest back into the local communities to provide our locals with opportunities to gain an education, employment and to become leaders in their own communities.”

“The key to growing the game more broadly is to invest into your local and junior development programs and initiatives, develop a strong and mutually rewarding partnership with the Gaelic (GAA) community, create domestic leagues to build your ongoing participation and install a fun and safe environment for all participants both on the field and in a social setting.”

Some new Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles fans in Vietnam enjoying their new kit.

One of the major fallouts of AFL Asia’s participation data in 2021 was the fact that AFL India had been crippled by the global pandemic and couldn’t play or participate at any level, registering zero participants. Unfortunately, many countries faced a similar fate to AFL India during those uncertain times.

Having said that and fast forwarding 12 months, AFL India have impressively returned to action with 3,363 participants actively involved, which is a terrific result given where AFL India has come from.

With a population of 1.42 billion people in India, we are projecting a steep improvement in participation numbers within AFL India communities, particularly with the 2024 AFL International Cup on the horizon.

AFL India’s leadership course is working to build the new generation of football leaders in the country with thanks to AFL Asia’s Development Grants Program.

Growing the game of AFL within new markets is paramount to the success of building the brand of the game, creating new teams and leagues and gaining exposure to new participants, football programs, stakeholders.

South Korea has a population of close to 52 million people, with the capital of Seoul having an impressive population of 9.7 million.

AFL South Korea was founded in March 2022 in the thriving metropolis of Seoul and although they’re in their infancy, they’ve made solid progress with their participation and governance and already have an eye on participating at a future Asian Championships.

AFL South Korea are on the lookout for new players in Seoul and its surrounds, so reach out and get in touch for more details.

Another highlight during the 2022 season has been the Philippine Australian Football League and associated Philippine Eagles, who have bounced back tremendously well over the past 12 months after not being able to train or play for close to two years. An enormous amount of effort has been placed on rebuilding their club from their Auskick program right through to their senior ranks.

A massive 453% increase in participation this year is an outstanding result and is even more amplified by the fact that the Philippine Eagles have had an 84% increase in participation when comparing their 2022 participation data to their 2019 pre-COVID participation data.

The Philippine Eagles have rebuilt their club from the bottom up, from its Auskickers right through to national representatives.

One of the key pillars of AFL Asia’s Strategic Plan has been built upon increasing participation numbers at a regional level and becoming one of the leaders in this space at an international level.

2022 has been a successful and transitional year that has laid the foundations for future growth, and we’re excited to see what can be achieved at a junior level, within local communities, the fast growing women’s market and of course at a senior level off the back of domestic leagues continuing to grow and club’s being able to travel and tour more frequently.

AFL Asia would like to thank all of our coaches, volunteers, administrators, players and participants for all of their efforts during the 2022 season and we look forward to growing the game alongside you all during the 2023 season.

Written by Matt Gale.