Bin Hammam calls for maturity and professionalism

Chaired by AFC president, Mohamed bin Hammam, members of the Asian Football Confederation Executive Committee met in Kualar Lumpur on 1 December. In the following media conference, the president emphasised the need for increasing professionalism throughout Asia. Naming several leading football associations, he called on them to give away their "immature" mentality so that the AFC "can become the second strongest confederation behind Europe". With their population, resources, economies and talent, he said, Asia could have five or six leagues to match the Europeans ... but only if standards continue to be raised, including better management.

He also cautioned that the AFC was not pressing FIFA for more automatic places in the World Cup. While there will be great interest in the performance of the five Asian nations (including Australia) participating in Germany next year, he said it was possible that Asia would not be technically prepared for greater representation until much later, perhaps until 2022.

Mr bin Hammam announced that Australia, which formally joins the AFC on 1 January, had been allocated to the ASEAN Zone because of its proximity. He said Australia brought with it economic power and technical ability and these will provide a new challenge for many Asian countries.

Seamus O'Brien, president of World Sport Group, which controls the marketing rights to Asian football, was reportedly full of praise for the zoning. "Being placed with such heavyweights as Japan, Korea and China would have stifled Australia's ambitions of growth," O'Brien told Philip Micallef of the Herald Sun. "Clearly, being a big fish in a small pond will benefit Australia's aspirations greatly," he said.

However the AFC zones - West Asia, Central/South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia (ASEAN) - are administrative and do not affect World Cup, Asian Cup and Olympics and other qualification paths. Deputy General Secretary, Dato Paul Mony Samuel, also confirmed to the Asian Football Business Review that membership of the zone will not automatically include Australia in the next ASEAN Cup (formerly 'Tiger' Cup) as the ASEAN Football Federation, which organises the Cup and the AFC zone "are two different things".

Following the successful presentation of the annual awards the previous evening, the Committee unanimously agreed to maintain the criteria that players must be present at the awards.

The Committee also took a tough stance against the fielding of over-age players at AFC U-17 competitions. It was decided that the sole responsibility of checking a player's age falls within the member association. if any of the players are suspected of being over-age, MRI examination will be done on them and if guilty, the member association's results in the competition will be nullified. Further, the concerned associations, officials and players will be suspended with the option of extending this ban internationally.