CAFL – Professional American Indoor Football in China

A New Country, A New Sport – Nothing New for Niuy

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by Lou Tilley

Wuhan, China, November 6, 2015 – He cuts quite a figure. Take a look at the chiseled chin. You know it’s taken a few, and you know he’s probably dealt out more. But take a look at the eyes, and you should know, this is a man with depth, expertise and determination. Qualities he has used as world class athlete, educator, and sports executive.

David Niu (David Niumataiwalu to be precise) has spent a life time traveling the world. Born in Fiji, growing up in Australia, he criss-crossed that monstrous landmass as a young lad, climbing the ranks of the powerful rugby strata “Down Under.” A long-time centerpiece of the Australian National squad, young David balanced a full-time career as a an educator – a profession, it turns out, that serves him well decades later, trying to teach a different sport – in China.

“I wanted the world to love rugby as we did in Australia, as I did, along with my mates, right?” he says in a strong voice, that is often barely above a whisper. This is his way, this is how he is heard. “But I learned that even though I thought it was the greatest sport, no matter how loud and strong I was in promoting it, I came to understand that it would take time to spread the sport, that I would need to listen to my audience, learn their likes and dislikes first, and then teach them step by step. I’m doing that now.”

David Niu, pushing rugby in China? That wouldn’t surprise his mates worldwide, who watched Niuy organize leagues – amateur and professional – all across the globe, including the United States, where he settled outside of Philadelphia, with his wife and children. But he’s in China, in Wuhan this time, to promote another form of “footy” – US Arena football.

Niuy (as he is called by most everyone) is the President of the global entity (AFL-Global) that established the CAFL, the China Arena Football League, about three years ago. The professional league “super-series,” as he calls it, will kick off in six mainland cities about a year from now. So, on this day, David is with his team from the CAFL, and AFL-G, in Wuhan to watch the three-year old Chinese collegiate programs they have established, gathered in a round robin tournament.

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(left to right: David Niu, Phil Bogle (asst coach, Phl. Soul,) Lou Tilley, (the author)

“Its quite exciting, right? This whole concept of football three years ago was a radical breakthrough then, but the explosion of western style culture, and especially west style athletics is faster than any of us could have hoped. The timing may be perfect.” And this from a man who truly understands the grind of his task. Not unlike the first trip we all took together to one of the highest points of The Great Wall. You learn to keep your eyes straight ahead, don’t look too far ahead, and take the steps one at a time.

“The irony in all this is that we are being shepherded into the China mainstream by one of the government’s sports divisions, the division that controls – rugby,” Niuy says of the CRFA (China Rugby Football Association) with a smile. Not surprisingly, many of the young men the CAFL have recruited to the six college teams on display this week in Wuhan, come from the school’s rugby programs. “Something about the pads, I think – that and the forward pass.” And television. There is no question that the NFL, and college football is penetrating mainland China, and reaching the younger generation. “That’s exactly what we want, what we need.”

The recent success and notoriety of Aussie rugby star Jarryd Hayne is something Niu, and the CAFL point to as they try to educate China on the rules and strategy of the game of US-style football. “Hayne made the adjustment to the NFL in one season of training. So too can the young men in China, and we are here to help them.”

The CAFL needs them. When the pro league kicks off in 2016, the rosters may very well be filled on a 50:50 ratio of established foreign payers, to domestic Chinese. And does Niuy like what he sees of this first college crop this week in Wuhan? A big, broad infectious grin is his answer. Always has been.

LTM (Lou Tilley Media) is on site in Wuhan for the tournament this week. Look for Lou Tilley’s stories and insights as well as multi-media from the LTM team who are on site to capture the content of the evolving story of The CAFL.

The China Arena Football League (CAFL) will be showcased in Guanggu Gymnasium at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, from Nov 3-Nov 7.

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