Australian rules football has joined the ranks of other major sports in launching an experimental shorter format as it eyes a foreign expansion, with Hong Kong first up.
The Australian Football League will play its first AFLX matches locally next week with the number of players on the field reduced from 18 to seven, and new rules that eliminate stoppages.
AFL chiefs said the plan was to speed up the game in a similar vein to rugby sevens, while accompanying the occasion with all the colour that spectators have come to expect from T20 cricket matches.
“We’ve had trouble taking our game internationally,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan admitted late on Tuesday.
“This is not our traditional game, AFLX, but it’s got all the best bits of it – it’s the same goals and the same rules, generally, [although] scoring is different.”
Aussie Rules, the country’s biggest spectator sport, is similar to Gaelic football but played with an oval ball.
McLachlan said if successful locally, the faster format could lead to a competition in Hong Kong next year, while the Australian newspaper said New York, Singapore, and London were also being considered.
“It means we can go to Hong Kong in November next year, not only with two clubs, but you could take six clubs and we could play a mini tournament,” he said.
The AFL played its first game in China last year and will return this season after more than 10,000 people attended the match in Shanghai and millions more watched on TV.
Traditionally played on an oval-shaped pitch, AFLX will be held on a smaller rectangular ground, making it easier to export, McLachlan said.
“To take our game and showcase all the best bits of it and actually not have to build infrastructure like we do in Shanghai, as an example, or go to other parts of Asia, or Europe, or wherever – that’s a huge opportunity,” he said.