A young AFL player from southern China will become the first Chinese national to represent Port Adelaide Football Club.
Chen Shaoliang will make his debut for the Port Adelaide Magpies reserves, in the South Australian National Football League today.
Once a basketballer, the 25-year-old impressed AFL talent scouts during a mission to China in 2012.
He became Port Adelaide’s first Chinese recruit in 2016, but injury left him benched until now.
“I can’t believe it finally happened, I’m so excited for it,” he said.
“[I’m] looking forward to playing my role in the team and hope [I] can bring some energy from my teammates.”
Shaoliang said he would most likely play forward and could potentially play in the midfield.
Shaoliang hopes to inspire other Chinese players
He said this milestone was not only important for him, but other Chinese who aspire to play AFL.
“I think that the history moment [is] to show people Chinese can play at least this level [of] football and I think this will be a good example they can look up to,” he said.
Port Adelaide Football Club academy coach Mark Clayton said Shaoliang was a true team player, but has had quite the journey to get here.
“He’s opening up football to a lot of people that probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise, so I think he’s been able to grow the game that not many people get to do,” he said.
“I think it’s been very challenging, moving to a different country and not speaking English and learning to play a game at a different level, where in China he’s playing on a modified field with less numbers, a small oval, slower speed.
“The biggest challenge will be the speed and pressure of the game when he runs onto the field.”
Accessibility a challenge for AFL
The AFL said Shaoliang’s debut not only marked a moment in history, but was another step in making the game accessible to more groups.
“A big challenge for Australian football has been accessibility to groups who’ve not grown up with the sport,” AFL communications manager Patrick Keane said.
“So people who’ve come to Australia and perhaps not known the game, not understanding the rules, the physical contact is a bit different or they’ve grown up with their own sport.
“For us to be truly representative we need to represent all parts of the community here in Australia.”
Shaoliang’s debut will also be a history making moment, with Melbourne and Collingwood player Danny Seow the only other Chinese-born player at the elite level.
“I think that’s [Seow] the only known player in the last 40 years or so,” Mr Keane said.
“But to have someone born overseas playing at a state league level is definitely a first.”
By Caroline Winter