When football’s glitterati led by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) president Joseph S. Blatter and other big names in the world’s most popular sport arrive on November 30 to grace the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), it is only fitting that all have come “home” to celebrate once more.
Formed on May, 8, 1954, 12 countries – Afghanistan, Burma (now Myanmar), Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam – first met in Manila to discuss the formation of football’s governing body in Asia. Forty-four days later, on June 21, FIFA sanctioned the newly christened Asian Football Confederation.
The AFC’s founding actually precedes the official founding of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) by a month and a half, making it the oldest governing football body outside FIFA.
Sixty years later, the AFC returns to the city of its birthplace of Manila. Then, as it is now, the Philippines is one of Asia’s brightest and fastest growing countries not only in terms of its economy but also in football. To underscore its growth, the Philippines’ national team is the top-ranked national side in Southeast Asia. The United Football League is one of the more popular sports competitions in the country, even as the country’s own governing body, the Philippine Football Federation, is gearing up for its first true national league competition in about two years time.
And from the original 12 nations, the AFC, with its regional home base now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has grown by leaps and bounds as it now counts 46 member associations and one associate member divided into the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), East, Central and South, and West regions.
Twelve of its member nations are ranked in the Top 100 of FIFA’s Men’s Rankings. As of October 2014, at least 96 of its sons are playing in pitches all over Europe. Japan’s Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), South Korea’s Son Heung-Min (Bayer Leverkusen), China’s Wang Shang-Yuan (Brugge), and Syria’s Ahmad Kalasi (Sarajevo) among the many who are carrying the torch for the AFC and the Asian footballer.
Japan currently leads Asia with the most number of football exports with 40. South Korea is next with 11 players; Uzbekistan is third with nine footballers playing in the old continent.
In Europe’s premier club football tournament, the UEFA Champions League, five Asian players are registered for the group stages. That includes Kagawa, Heung-Min, Schalke 04’s Atsuto Uchida, Basel’s Yoichiro Kakitani, and Sporting Lisbon’s Junya Tanaka.
Despite the poor showing in the recent World Cup in Brazil, Asian football is still poised for greater things and achievements given the vast improvements and development in every level from grassroots to professional clubs to national teams. Programs have likewise been introduced to further professionalize administrative officials as well as match officials. All these will ensure that future generations of Asians will benefit from top-notch training and programs.
After Qatar’s historic successful bid to host the World Cup in 2022, the AFC, under the present leadership of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, is aggressively pushing for another slot for Asian teams in football’s showcase event.
Speaking of the World Cup, the AFC is also looking at expanding its World Cup Qualifying Tournament where member countries will be given a chance to host more home matches and to provide more quality tournaments.
Considering that the Asia is the world’s most populous continent, the potential for growth is still largely untapped. And Sheikh Salman recognizes that fact and believes that the AFC should have a stronger voice in world football.
“We are always looking at ways to increase our standing globally,” said Sheikh Salman. “Having an extra spot in the World Cup will help us massively in that regards but of course, the spot must be earned. And we will strive hard to earn it.”
The AFC has come up with more initiatives to provide better infrastructure, training, funding, opportunities, and expertise to its member associations while creating a watchdog and ethics committee to combat corruption.
“There is need for all-around development in Asia is crucial,” summed up Sheikh Salman.
It is widely expected for Asian football to aim for greater heights when Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.