Football in Asia has a vision

Sportsworld's Wayne Hay speaks to AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam.

    The future is Asia for AFC president
    Mohammed Bin Hammam [GALLO/GETTY]

    With the 14th AFC Asian Cup sure to be the focus of all football fans in the region for the month of July, Sportsworld's Wayne Hay caught up with Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, to see what the Qatari has planned for a continent ready to make it big in the world game.

    The world is very much focused on Asia at the moment for a variety of reasons. Therefore, how important is it for you personally that you stage a successful and spectacular Asian Cup?

    Well it is very important. We have moved it from 2008 to 2007 just to be sure that there are no other competitions taking part in the same year, like the European Cup and the Olympics, so I believe we have created a real environment for our competition to be unique in its organisation and its timing.

    So definitely we are looking forward to our teams' performances bringing the glory to the competition itself, so it is a very important tournament as far as we're concerned.

    Global business and other sporting codes are saying that Asia is where it's at now. Is this a chance for the Asian Football Confederation to showcase Asian football? Is this therefore a breakthrough tournament for you?

    'The Future is Asia' has been our slogan for a long time, realising that in Asia we are economically very strong as you know, and realising that also, the most important continent in football and in sport, Europe, is almost full.

    Even the very important clubs in Europe are now coming to Asia to generate more funds and revenues so we realise the strength of our continent in terms of wealth and in terms of business.
    So what is left for us, as the confederation or as national associations, is to improve our product which is football, to attract television and attract the sponsors as well as the fans.

    You mentioned the European clubs, and I have to ask you about Manchester United as it was such a high profile incident. Are they coming to Malaysia or are they not? Was that important for you personally as a leader, and also for this confederation to draw a line in the sand to these European clubs, particularly a club as big as Manchester United, and say 'this confederation, this region, needs to be respected'?


    Watch the Al Jazeera Sportsworld Asian Cup special edition.

    Click here for Part one

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    That's actually right, but I think more importantly that the issue between the same family, football, being Manchester (United), being our confederation or any other clubs or any other national associations should be resolved with a friendly environment and amicable basis.

    Actually I have to take this opportunity to say that all the credit to resolve this problem in the most amicable way goes to Manchester. Manchester is a big club that's for sure, but also when you grow, your responsibilities also grow, and I think at the end of the day Manchester has realised that they have a responsibility towards the Asian Football Confederation.

    The Asian Football Confederation has a contractual obligation and commitment with others like Malaysia or the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM). Some here did not want to respect that, but Manchester said 'no, this contract and this obligation has to be respected, so I'm not coming to Malaysia at this time'.

    The relationship between yourselves and Malaysian football, is that OK now?

    Well it is OK now, it was OK before. I knew that I have the rights in my hand I have a contract signed between me and the Football Association of Malaysia. This is why I acted the way I acted.

    Speaking of the host nations for the Asian Cup, as national teams they're perhaps not as strong as they should be.  Why did you choose those nations to host this tournament?

    Bin Hammam, front row centre, was re-elected
    as AFC president for a second four-year term
    in March, 2007 [EPA]

    In principle actually we have the system of rotation for the Asian Cup hosting, and we changed it recently in our last congress. But through the rotation system we were obliged to give the possibility of hosting the Asian Cup in 2007 to the Asean region.

    OK, now what makes things difficult is that four nations came forward to host this competition and we agreed upon that. I would not say that they are very weak, as they have all the resources to be good teams in this tournament.

    They have the infrastructure, they have the economy, they have the talent. They have the clubs, they have the leagues, they have everything actually to be some of the best teams in Asia.
    Maybe at this time they are comparing themselves to better teams in Asia, but I'm not expecting that all the hosting teams are going to lead the competition in every stage.

    Why do you think they're not as strong as they should be? Look at Malaysia, with a population of 27 million.

    This is a question that I think should be raised directly with the FAM, but one thing is for sure with Asia in general is that we need to improve our leagues and our club systems and standards before we even think about being good at the international arena.

    We have some teams that are very strong in Asia but whenever they leave the Asian environment they cannot stand against the strong competition. This is because our competitions, our leagues, our clubs are still dealing with football affairs mostly on an amateur basis.

    Is it a goal of yours personally to develop the game in this region?

    We are not accepting anything less than what exists in the top leagues in Europe.

    Yes, this is my main aim. This is why I have launched Vision Asia where we deal with commercial football the same way we are dealing with amateur football.

    At the end of the day amateur football is more than 99 per cent of our game. This one per cent, we are determined to improve it, so this why we have launched our professional leagues in 2009, and only the professional clubs can participate in this competition and we have set a very high standard and a very high criteria to those clubs, to those leagues, who want to participate in this competition.

    We are not accepting anything less than what exists in the top leagues in Europe.

    What do you hope Australia will bring to the Asian confederation?

    They have brought a lot. They have brought the standard, they have brought the economy, they have brought the discipline.

    Maybe this is the first time in Asia we are seeing a team whose players are all playing in the advanced leagues in the world. This is maybe the first time a full squad is playing in Europe. So this is one thing that everybody has wanted to see in Asia for a long time.

    Their national association gave the chance to their players to play outside in Europe, to gain the experiences, to be better players when they come to participate in their national team.

    This is the time when we are telling the world that we have world standard players playing in our competition, 'come and watch them'. This is the thing which we have gained mostly from Australia.

    Of course you have to be impartial, but you no doubt have a soft spot for your home nation Qatar.

    Well I will support them to the end whether they make it or not. I will support them as a fan, my country, but also I wish this support will be combined with entertainment, with a standard of delivery that I shall be proud of.

    Do you still keep an eye on what's going on in the world of football back home?

    Actually I came from a famous, or what used to be a famous club in Qatar called Al Rayyan. I still want to hear from time to time about what we are doing as a club, but unfortunately we are not doing any good.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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