Chi­nese foot­ball players take to their new sport like old pros

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Wil­liam Hen­nelly NEWYORK JOUR­NAL Con­tact the writer at wil­liam hen­nelly@chi­nadai­

Chi­nese foot­ball players take to their new sport like old pros. Tao Yu took the snap in pis­tol for­ma­tion and scam­pered left four yards into the end zone and into his­tory. With that score, Tao be­came the first Chi­nese quar­ter­back to play and also score a touch­down on the de­but week­end of the China Arena Foot­ball League.

Tao’s TD came dur­ing his Shen­zhen Naja club’s 47-19 throt­tling of the Dalian Dragon Kings on Satur­day at the LeS­ports Cen­ter in Bei­jing be­fore a Na­tional Day crowd of 11,500.

Other Chi­nese-player firsts in­cluded the first kick­off, by Chao Ran Li of the Qing­dao Clip­per, who ended up tack­ling an Amer­i­can player on the re­turn.

Qing­dao wide re­ceiver Tian Chu Zhang scored the first CAFL touch­down by a Chi­nese player and fin­ished with four catches on the day. The Qing­dao Clip­per held off a last-minute surge by the Guangzhou Power to pre­serve a 38-35 win.

In the Sun­day game, the Bei­jing Lions bested their bigcity ri­vals the Shang­hai Sky­walk­ers, 54-53, in a thriller in the league’s first over­time game.

“I thought the crowd was very ex­cited and into the game,” Ken Bozarth, AFL Global VP of op­er­a­tions, told China Daily. “Two out of the three games came down to the fi­nal drive. It was ac­tu­ally dif­fi­cult at times to dis­tin­guish the Amer­i­cans from the Chi­nese. That’s telling us how much the Chi­nese have im­proved with the guid­ance of their coaches and Amer­i­can team­mates.”

“The story of this day was the sur­pris­ingly fast tran­si­tion and ef­fec­tive play of the Chi­nese players,” said ESPN NFL foot­ball com­men­ta­tor Ron “Jaws” Ja­worski, a for­mer quar­ter­back for the Philadel­phia Ea­gles and part of the CAFL own­er­ship group. “All of us — own­ers, staff, US players and coaches are very, very happy for the suc­cess of the Chi­nese players in their de­but.”

“Five years ago, peo­ple laughed at me when I said I would bring Amer­i­can foot­ball to China,” said Marty Judge, the US busi­ness­man who cre­ated the league. “Take a look around you. Here we are, on the home floor of the Bei­jing Ducks, and the China Olympics, and they came to see us — the CAFL, how about that?!”

The games capped off an ex­cit­ing week for the new league, which saw fu­ture Hall of Fame NFL quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning vis­it­ing China to talk about the prospects for Amer­i­can foot­ball in the coun­try, and news sto­ries about Amer­i­can foot­ball in China in US me­dia such as Reuters, Bloomberg and Time.

The Sept 30 head­line on the story car­ried the head­line, “Pey­ton Man­ning’s look­ing for the Yao Ming of foot­ball in China.”

“Who knows? Maybe a player does come out of China like a Yao Ming — that would be the best way to cre­ate more in­ter­est,” Man­ning said. “It only just takes one.”

“I met a guy the other day in Shang­hai who knew more of my statis­tics that I even do,” Man­ning told Time. “So there’s a great pas­sion for foot­ball over here.”

AFL Global is the par­ent com­pany of the CAFL, whose train­ing pro­gram be­gan in May 2013 at six Chi­nese univer­si­ties. AFL Global was found by Judge, whose IT staffing ser­vices com­pany, The Judge Group, has been do­ing busi­ness in China for sev­eral years. The Arena Foot­ball League has op­er­ated in the United States since 1987.

In arena foot­ball, a team fields eight players at a time. Each CAFL ros­ter fea­tures 10 for­eign players and 10 Chi­nese, with two prac­tice squad players (one for­eign, one Chi­nese). There will be four for­eign players and four Chi­nese players on the field at all times for each team.

The CAFL isn’t the only game of Amer­i­can foot­ball in town.

NFL China has been mar­ket­ing the sport since 2007 and says its fan base grew from 1.6 mil­lion in 2010 to 19 mil­lion in 2015.

The NFL airs its games on eight re­gional TV broad­cast­ers and on­line broad­cast­ers such as Ten­cent Sports, Sina Sports, PPTV and iQiyi.

The CAFL moves on to host city Dalian this week­end with a triple header of games on Sun­day.


The Bei­jing Lions (left) square off against the Shang­hai Sky­walk­ers on Sun­day dur­ing open­ing-week­end ac­tion in the China Arena Foot­ball League.

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