Saturday, December 02, 2006

Velappan on the success of AFC over 30 years

What will Dato Peter Velappan do when he steps down as the Asian Football Confederation secretary general? "It is 30 years of continuous and hectic work. I have no regrets, but it is time to have some rest and be with the family," Velappan told Yasir Abbasher of Gulf News. "I assure you there were no pressures on me to retire. It is a personal decision because of my health. But mind you, I will not be away from AFC. I still have some obligations with the Vision Asia program and other AFC committees. It is not a total retirement. I am only stepping down from being the secretary general and I will still have an office at the headquarters of the AFC in Kuala Lumpur. I also plan to write in newspapers and compile books about the game and believe me I have so much to write about."

He recalled his long road with the AFC: "When I joined, there were only 22 members. Now we have 46. Asia was then represented by one single team in the finals of the World Cup, while at the moment, we have five teams. Our budget has increased from $5 million in the '80s to $100 million this year. The changes have been quite significant - the most notable being the sport's increase in popularity over the years. Football was fourth or fifth in Asia behind cricket, hockey, baseball and basketball. Now, it's the most popular game in the continent." Velappan said.

One of the best achievements of Velappan was the formation of a marketing company during the finals of the Asian Cup in Singapore in 1984, which led to an increase in AFC's annual budget of $100 million. "The real improvement had happened in the competitions organised by AFC. In the '80s, there was only the Asian Cup and no other competition at the club level. We now have the Asian Champions League, the AFC Cup, the President's Cup and the Challenge Cup, in addition to competitions for the youth and juniors. All these competitions have increased the popularity of the game and most people in Asia are now kind of breathing football! We succeeded in bringing different countries together where the politicians failed. We brought together South and North Korea, Iraq and Iran and India and Pakistan. Football became a means to promoting peace in Asia."

Although his biggest disappointment was the failure of the Asian teams to make it to the semifinals of the World Cup in Germany, earlier this year. he believes "in the next 10 years, we will be the number two continent in football, after Europe."

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