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The Goannas in Japan: From humble beginnings to taking out 11 championships

10 Jul 2019 11:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

AFL or “Aussie Rules” as many of us call it, is an integral part of modern day Australia’s national identity. So, whilst we at the Chamber are incredibly excited about the upcoming Rugby World Cup (RWC19), we think it’s worth sharing about the exciting developments AFL has had in Japan too. For example, did you know that AFL is played in Japan?

Two weeks ago we had the privilege of hearing from a local AFL team, the Goannas’ President (Tom Bowes), Coach (Sam Ghirardello) and member (Yuki Saito) at our Sports For Business meeting. We were so inspired by their story that we knew we should pass it on.

So where did it all start and how did AFL find its way into Japan? AFL in Japan kicked off when Fuji TV became interested in Australia and approached the Victorian Football League, setting up a game in Yokohama in 1986 and 1987. Keio and Waseda students were assembled to play “curtain raisers”, and the VFL coaches were so impressed they invited Japanese players to come to Australia to train. This was during a period when Japan’s economy was growing with large investment into Australia, which drove rapid growth and enthusiasm. There were also a lot of young Australians moving to Japan. The Goannas were formally established early in 1991 and have been a constant part of Australian life in Tokyo ever since.

On the Japanese side, after the initial surge in popularity, playing numbers were declining, particularly after the end of the bubble era. It wasn’t until a sports magazines ran features on ‘Aussie Ball’ that popularity picked up again. The Australian Football League Japan (AFL Japan) started a multi-team Japan wide competition in 2004 which continues to this day. Another boom, in the Australian economy this time, saw a lot of Japanese and Australian engagement over the coming years, and the Goannas had strong links in the business councils and big Australian companies operating in Japan. However, the end of the mining boom and the 2011 Great East Earthquake and resulting Fukushima crisis saw many Australians leave Japan. Consequently, the Goannas membership changed to involve younger players who were no longer as well connected with the business community.

Today, sport is a big part of the relationship between Australia and Japan. AFL in particular is a niche product that is uniquely Australian. The Goannas are 1 of 10 Australian football clubs in Japan which are members of the governing body, AFL Japan. Being the only English-speaking club and the most recognisable for Australians, they often serve as a link to the media and they have a strong consumer brand on social media amongst Japanese university students.

The Goannas offer a community to Australian ex-pats in Japan looking to build their network and hold on to a little piece from home that they know and love. President, Tom Bowes said the group feel that they have a key role to play and actively seek to provide a life platform for young Australians, including a friendship network extending to the players in the Japanese teams. Japanese youth who want to practice English have a chance to go overseas through AFL, and those that have that opportunity return to Japan grow up with a lasting connection to Australia.

The Goannas are looking to become more involved with Australian social networks and groups in Japan. Get in touch if you would like to make an impact and show support!

At the Australian New Zealand Chamber of Commerce, we believe in the power of sport to build lasting social and business connections irrespective of cultural differences. To read more about ANZCCJ’s sports for business committee and to learn about how to join, please visit our website https://www.anzccj.jp/SFB.

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