Sport AFL The AFL’s China Syndrome: this meltdown is beyond a joke

The AFL’s China Syndrome: this meltdown is beyond a joke

Port Adelaide take on Gold Coast in the AFL's first regular-season match outside Australia and New Zealand. Photo: AAP
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I wonder if the AFL realises they aren’t the first sporting code to take their game overseas.

I don’t really follow the game but I do a read a lot of strategic and international politics coverage.

And the witless hysteria around this stupid game – Port Adelaide will play the Gold Coast Suns in China on Sunday – is starting to swamp the witless hysteria of the Trump administration.

It’s hard to concentrate on the developing nuclear showdown between North Korea and the US when so much airtime has been given to the jumper the Suns will wear this weekend in Shanghai.

Having cut through the Gordian knot of that impossibly entangled and super important international issue, there was no getting back to China’s construction of artificial islands and creeping militarisation of the South China Sea, because we all had to freak the hell out about the much more dangerous and worrying possibility that Travis Boak and Jasper Pittard might get a dodgy spring roll from a roadside vendor.

Darren Burgess, the head of high performance at Port Adelaide, sent scribes, fans and the mentally infirm into a panic spiral on Tuesday when he warned that the local food in Shanghai can be “pretty dangerous”.

News flash, Darren, a kebab scoffed down in Rundle Mall can be pretty dangerous too, especially after dark – and not because of Triad activity.

You would think, given the asteroid-impact-level conniptions of the footy press over the lead-up to the Shanghai match, that no Australian sporting team had ever left the safety of home shores before and if they did, they were immediately eaten by cannibals, who then made another killing betting on the match with Chinese gambling syndicates.

“It can get pretty dangerous but we think we’ve got it all covered,” Burgess worried aloud about the absolute certainty of food poisoning if anybody should stray from the hotel buffet.

“We just don’t let the guys eat outside of the hotel.”

Players have further been warned against “the threat of Asian crime syndicates” which might try to make a score on the match, the air quality in Shanghai and a forecast of 30-degree heat on match day.

Players have also been briefed on the danger of stiff legs and heavy things falling out of the overhead lockers on the long-haul flights and we can only hope the league’s comprehensive preparation included consulting expert geologists and hydraulic engineers about the chances of the Three Gorges Dam collapsing this weekend, killing millions and flooding the venue.

Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade and Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley pose for the cameras ahead of Sunday’s clash. Photo: AAP

The dam is a four-hour flight away, but you can never be too careful with dams or dodgy prawns.

It’s a legitimate question, what the hell the AFL is even doing playing in Shanghai when its roots remain so shallow outside of the traditional home states of the game.

But the silliness of the venture has been far exceeded by the whack-a-doodle response of the coaches, fans and sports media.

On any given day, if you visit an international airport in Australia, you will see teams heading off all over the world.

Teams from high-profile sports like cricket and rugby routinely tour outside their comfort zones, but thousands of other players from more obscure pursuits do so as well. Every day. And they don’t carry on like royal pork chops about it.

That list includes 12-year-old netballers, late-life dragon boat races, wheelchair basketball players … they all throw themselves into the adventure and enjoy it for what it is. A privilege.

If the AFL decides to go down this path in the future – and presumably the match in Shanghai isn’t just some perverse random scheduling error – perhaps they could hire in a consultant from a suburban netball club to help their precious snowflakes cope with the trauma.

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