Lazarus Rokk of Malaysia's New Straits Times provides a valuable insight into the Asian Football Confederation's greater emphasis on professionalism in football. Rokk attended the AFC's congress in Marrakech, Morocco, last week where president Mohamed bin Hammam's keynote speech underlined the need for Asian football to compete with European football for the attention of Asians:
"As is our slogan, we want the future to be Asia," he said. "And as we leave our faith in the hands of "Vision Asia" to realise that future, I must emphasise that national associations must be run professionally, and it has to be run by professional."
Professionalism does not only apply to the professional players and the professional leagues alone. A huge factor in the overall development is the professionalism of people, Mr bin Hammam said. He later explained the professionalism requiered in the context of the following elements:
- Understanding the business potential of your organisation
- Employing the services of professional administrators and business managers
- Presenting football as a "product", as an industry that is subject to market forces
- Football Associations are the "keepers" of professional football in their respective countries.
On the subject of "Europe versus Asia" Mr bin Hammam pointed out with some regret that there are many countries in Asia where European football dominates the television screens and the sponsorship dollars.
"The excessive support of foreign football versus the local football leagues and clubs, is damaging the Asian game. I must stress that as part of the world's football family, we welcome the diversity of foreign football, and the positive influence that it can bring. But in many of our countries, we are in real danger of creating, or allowing, a football community of fans that have never gone to a live match, or have never kicked a ball."While acknowledging that European football can have a positive influence on the Asian football family, Mr bin Hammam however expressed his unhappiness that in many cases, foreign football is taking vast sums of money out of Asia without leaving a lasting legacy.
"It doesn't expand Asia's football playing base, or increase the support of our home-grown teams and players. It is our duty to put Asian football first, and I urge our member associations, the defenders of football in your country, to put your football first. Asian football must be number one in Asia."In this context, he spoke in great length on grassroots development:
"Our future is our youth. AFC commits to developing it's most valuable resource, the people, 65% of whom are under 20 years of age. Long term planning, starting from grassroots, will bring about changes in the standard of football, as well as providing a unique service to the well-being of society. I believe in leading through example. So at AFC we have already established our under-13 and under-14 festivals all over Asia."He also expressed the importance of club development, and club competitions at both local and international levels. Apart from the ongoing club tournaments, the AFC will launch the first women's club competition, and the first futsal club competition.
"All these," commented Rokk, "because Hammam believes, the future is Asia."
See also: FIFA's chief Sepp Blatter's thoughts on Asia (14 Sept) and AFC reports on football's further progress in Asia (11 Sept)