ADELAIDE, Australia, May 13 (Xinhua) -- With the 2019 Australian Football League (AFL) China game approaching, the CEO of Port Adelaide Football Club Keith Thomas is expressing his hopes that the popular sport in his country can help promote exchanges and understanding between Australia and China.
"It is a great vehicle for us to talk about Australia in China," he said in a recent interview with Xinhua, referring to the first-ever regular season (premiership) game of AFL China Game played in Shanghai in 2017.
The AFL is the top-flight professional competition of "Australian rules football". Port Adelaide, with its history of nearly 150 years, is going to play in Shanghai for the third year in a row on June 2 against St Kilda.
"[Former] Prime Minister [Malcolm] Turnbull endorsed the idea that we should play Australian football in China on his trip to China in 2016. That was a high level endorsement for the idea," Thomas said.
"We have played our first game in China in 2017. It took us three years of thinking about China before we actually played the game. So we have been there since about 2014," he added.
According to an agreement, Port Adelaide will play in China for a minimum of five years, up until 2021.
Talking about the experience over the the past two years, Thomas said that "we had 6,000 Australians travel to the game in Shanghai."
"The overwhelming feedback that we received from them was that China surprised them," he said.
"Shanghai...was so advanced, so exciting and dynamic. So it said to us that the Australian view of China was outdated. They said they wouldn't necessarily have chosen China as a tourist destination had it not been for the game. But having gone, they would go again. So that was very positive."
Simon Birmingham, the Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment has announced that a Festival of Australia is to be held in 10 Chinese cities between May 20 and June 2, which will showcase Australia's food, wine, aged care, innovation, education, investment, culture, tourism and sport.
The festival will end by highlighting Port Adelaide playing St Kilda at the premiership match at the Jiang Wan Stadium in Shanghai.
"We represent a sport in Australia, which is Australia's favorite game. And sport sits at the heart of Australian culture," Thomas said.
Compared with other popular sports worldwide, he noted that Australian football is a combination of strength, power, endurance and speed.
"Rugby, if you think about the game, you're coming straight towards each other all the time. Your opponent is always in front of you," he said.
"In soccer, you have the offside rule. So you're always in control. In (Australian) football, none of those rules exist. It's fast. And the ball could move anywhere. That's what makes it exciting to look at and unpredictable and a difficult game to play, because the athletic requirement is so much greater."
Thomas said that he talked to people, who asked why they played Australian football in China where no one is interested.
"That's simply not true. Because our game is a way of connecting the two (countries). That is where its value lies."
In fact, the trade bond between China and Australia is tight, with China being Australia's No. 1 trading partner. Tourism is booming as well. China was Australia's biggest source of tourists with more than 1.4 million people visiting the country in the 12 months to September 2018, contributing 11.5 billion Australian dollars (about 8.08 billion U.S. dollars) to the economy - a 12 percent increase on the previous year.
"If we could find a way to use our sport and our club to improve relations between Australia and China, maybe that would help us do business together more effectively," Thomas added.