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Chinese expat hoping to use 'power of sport' to grow the game

Swans players have teamed up with the Hurstville Dragons Auskick program in Sydney's south - AFL,Sydney Swans
Swans players have teamed up with the Hurstville Dragons Auskick program in Sydney's south

MATT MA won't be the game's first Brownlow medallist of Chinese heritage.

He won't even play first grade for his club side.

However, Ma, originally from the city of Liaoyang in China, is determined to play a key role in growing the game he's fallen in love with since he arrived in Australia.

Ma is part of the Hurstville Dragons Auskick Program, which has been run in conjunction with the Swans in Sydney's south this year.

Matt Ma has become a big fan of AFL since arriving from China. 

The program is the first of its kind and has been held at Hurstville Public School.

It was heavily attended by the multicultural community with many of the participants playing Australian Football for the first time.

AFL Community Ambassadors like Ma and others from the Chinese community are vital to the program's success.

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The final session of the month-long initiative drew a massive turnout of kids and parents recently, with Sydney stars Aliir Aliir and Nick Smith on hand to lend their expert advice.

Ma said the program offers far more than a kick of the footy to the participants.

"It's beneficial for the kids not only in terms of their health, but it also gets them more involved in the community, and that helps them make friends," he said.

"I believe in the power of sport for good and it is amazing to spread this great game with so many young children here in Hurstville playing for the very first time.

"I mingle with the parents of the kids and talk to them about the sport.

"Some of them had some doubts about their kids playing because it's a contact sport, so I just talk to them about all the great things the kids can get from playing."

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After arriving in Sydney in 2017, Ma was introduced to the sport by a friend, and has been hooked ever since.

Matt Ma in his Sydney Uni gear.

He plays third division for Sydney Uni and eventually wants to work full-time in the AFL industry in the future.

"When I got to Australia I knew that sport was a big thing here," he said.

"I didn't have many friends, so I wanted to get involved as a way to meet people and learnt the culture here.

"My mate took me to a Swans-Hawthorn game in 2018 and from that moment I was really interested.

"I wasn't a sporty person before I came to Australia, so my friends and family were quite shocked to find out I was playing.

"Now I'm sharing pictures and videos on social media and they're all asking me what I'm doing.

"My mates were a bit confused by the handballing because they're used to playing soccer or football over there."

The AFL's commitment to an annual fixture in Shanghai hasn't quite turned the game into a Chinese pastime just yet, and isn't going to anytime soon, but Ma is excited to see his new love being played in his home country.

"The sport is still not that popular in China at the moment, but I hope more people can get to know about the game because I think it's amazing," he said.

"It would be great to see a player of Chinese descent in the AFL one day.

"Collingwood has an American in Mason Cox, and there's so many great indigenous players in the League, it helps with the diversity of the game."