Thursday, December 16, 2010

Embrace Asia before taking on the world

Australia will be named as host of the
2015 AFC Asian Cup in just 21 days time
It won’t capture the imagination as much as the FIFA World Cup Bid Announcement, in fact there probably wont even be a live announcement on TV and it will only get a passing mention on news bulletins, if it all, but in just 21 days time Australia will be confirmed as the host of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

After the disappointment of missing out on 2022 in humiliating circumstances, most people will skoff and say “big deal”, but it is exactly that. It is a big deal.

Some say we were naïve in going for 2022 and that we needed to prove ourselves as a Football nation. The 2015 AFC Asian Cup provides us with an opportunity to do just that, but perhaps more importantly it will give us a chance to prove we’re an Asian nation.

Despite rising coverage, Australian’s still largely ignore Asian Football and disregard it as ‘second-rate’. Australia went into the 2007 AFC Asian Cup with largely that attitude. It was presumed we would waltz in and win it at our first attempt without a worry in the world.

We were quickly, and rightly, given a rude shock.

What 2015 will do is showcase the best Asian Football has to offer to this largely uneducated audience. It will, hopefully, break down barriers, remove stereotypes and allow Australia to embrace Asian Football.

It will, hopefully, also allow Asia to embrace Australia.

There is still apprehension to Australia joining the AFC from some quarters. We’re not viewed as an Asian nation. Even Mohammed Bin Hammam, the AFC President who played a large part in Australia being accepted into The AFC, still doesn’t really view Australia as an “Asian” nation, as evidenced by his recent comments.

Frank Lowy & Ben Buckley present Australia's bid for the
2015 AFC Asian Cup to Mohammed Bin Hammam

When asked by respected Asian Football journalist, John Duerden, whether he would give his vote to another Asian nation in the event Qatar were knocked out of the bidding to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Bin Hammam replied, “You are considering Australia as an Asian country?”

That answer says so much about Australia’s standing within The AFC.

Australia’s integration into Asia will take years, perhaps decades, before we’re really considered to be a true part of The AFC. We’re one of the only nations within The AFC that I am aware of that doesn’t compete in it’s own regional Football tournament – the AFF Cup (also known as the Suzuki Cup).

Getting full membership of the ASEAN Football Federation and having a team participate in the biennial AFF Cup must be close to top of the agenda for the FFA. It is important politically as well as being important for our football development.

We need our Football powerbrokers to take up key positions within Asian Football and we need to regularly have a member of the AFC Executive Committee.

Talk of Australia needing a seat on the FIFA Exco are massively premature, especially when we’re so weak politically in our own region. Let’s first “conquer” Asia before we think about conquering the world.

And that is what the 2015 AFC Asian Cup will help us achieve. By no means will we have “conquered” Asia by simply hosting the tournament, but we will have gone a long way to improving our standing within the region and our acceptance as an Asian nation – both here and abroad.

That is why hosting the 2015 AFC Asian Cup is a big deal.


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