What are Royals doing for eastern Asia football?

Attending a training session at Charlton Athletic FC in preparation for his role as president of the English Football Association, Britain's Prince William told reporters he wanted to encourage more people to play football. The Prince will replace his uncle the Duke of York in May 2006 - just in time for next year's FIFA World Cup.

"I really want to try and get more kids involved in football," he said. "The power of football is huge and I think it needs to be harnessed. At the same time the sportsmanship side of football is a key issue to focus on. I don't want to be just a figurehead. I want to help football ... and generally support football in every way I can."

The prince, who is second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (and many other countries, including Australia), is due to join the British army next year as an officer cadet at Sandhurst military academy.

Eastern Asia is rather bereft of ruling royal families these days but 'blue-blooded' passion for the round ball game is widespread amongst the region's mostly non-oil-endowed monarchs

By far the most prominent regal promoter of football in Asia in recent years was surely Japan's Prince Takamado who sadly passed away on 21 November 2002 at only 47 years old. The Prince, who died of a heart attack suffered while playing squash, had been the honorary patron of the Japan Football Association since 1987. His interest in the sport started at elementary school when he watched Mitsubishi Diamond Soccer on television.

He worked tirelessly to establish the J-League and to support Japan's bid for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, frequently hosting receptions for visiting dignitaries. During the World Cup, Prince Takamado attended 19 games, which was the highest number of anyone in Japanese football. "I remember watching the Japan-Tunisia game at Osaka. When Japan won to qualify for the second round, he stood up, raised both arms in the air and we embraced each other," said friend and broadcaster, Shun-ichiro Okano.

The Prince's work continues to be carried out by his wife, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado who accepted most of the Honorary Patron or Honorary President positions that he held in the hope that she will be able to carry out his wishes. These include the Japan Football Association.

Football was first introduced in Thailand during the reign of King Rama VI upon the return of princes and members of the noblemen's families from overseas. In 1911, the king established the Football Association of Siam, which subsequently became a member of FIFA. In 1952, the association was renamed the Football Association of Thailand under Royal Patronage, and tasked with organizing domestic and international football competitions, including the Kings Cup.

Nepal's Royal Highness Crown Prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah Dev is said to be a football buff with a soft-spot for the local Three Star Club and often attends football matches accompanied by his children, Princess Purnika and Prince Hridayendra, the next in line to the throne.

Prince Paras inaugurated the AFC President’s Cup football tournament in May and his recent lengthy meetings with Asian Football Confederation officials promoted them to invite him to present the gold medal in football in the SA Games, scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka in April 2006.

Brunei's Royal Highness Crown Prince Pg Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah owns the DPMM FC which will play in the Malaysia League next year. He was the club's goalkeeper when it was founded as a Brunei high school club in 1994 and remains its Chairman today. The Prince and Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pg Anak Isteri Pg Anak Sarah took time out to watch an S-League football match during a recent official visit to Singapore.

Cambodia's Royal Highness Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh is president of the National Olympic Committee and often takes part in ceremonial activities involving football competitions. His father, the Retired King Norodom Sihanouk is known to post messages on his personal website cheering the French national football team. However, when a young man, King Norodom enjoyed playing football for the Royal Palace XI (pictured here after a game against Army in January 1963).

In Malaysia, a current imbroglio within the Football Association of Malaysia is raising the question whether a senior Royal or politician should lead the sport or, as comentator Razak Yaacob, diplomatically put it, "professional managers who know what they are doing".

However, the Sultan of Pahang and, later, Yang di-Pertuan Agong VII of Malaysia, Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta'in Billah Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mu'adzam Shah, remains a powerful influence in the federal kingdom's football. According to the official Malaysian Monarchy website, Sultan Ahmad was "the country’s number one sports fan". In 1982 he was awarded the International Olympic Football Award (the only Malaysian so far to receive this prestigious award) and he has been president of FAM since 1984. Under his leadership, Malaysia succeeded in regaining the Merdeka Cup after 9 years, by defeating South Korea 3–1 in additional time on 17 February 1993. His son, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is currently deputy president of FAM.

Sultan Ahmad also played a prominent role in regional football. He became president of the Asian Football Confederation in 1994 and was significantly involved in the first-ever World Cup being staged in Asia. He held the AFC post for two terms but decided not to seek re-election for a third term and was replaced by Mohamed Hammam of Qatar. On steppijng down from the AFC in 2002, he received FIFA's highest and most prestigious award, the FIFA Order of Merit.

Australia, the newest member of the Asian Football Confederation is also a federal monarchy, sharing the crown of the United Kingdom. When it comes to sport, however, Australia is decidedly a republic and the pro-UK sporting roles of British Royals such as Prince Andrew are conveniently ignored. So long as Australian wins, that is.

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