Friday, July 30, 2010
AFC president eyes second World Cup in Asia in 2022
He may be widely tipped to take over from FIFA president Sepp Blatter when the Swiss finally decides to call it a day, but for now AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam has set his sights firmly on bringing a second FIFA World Cup to the Asian continent in 2022.
Talking to Soccernet, the influential Asian football leader gave the biggest indication yet that a gentleman's agreement is being prepared between Europe and Asia to make sure the 2022 World Cup takes place on the latter continent, exactly 20 years after the finals in Japan and South Korea.
"Asian members on the FIFA Executive Committee are determined to bring the World Cup to Asia in 2022," Bin Hammam said. "I am confident we can do it. Asia will support Europe for 2018 and we look forward to Europe supporting our aspirations for 2022."
While Bin Hammam did not specify which European bid for 2018 the Asian members would be looking to back, he did point out that the four Asian candidates in the running for the December decision day were evenly matched - despite his obvious support for his home nation Qatar. "We have four very strong bidders - Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Qatar - and all the bids have their individual merits. I don't see anyone ahead or lagging behind in this race. It is all down to convincing the 24-member FIFA Executive Committee."
The long-standing Asian president also hinted that the AFC would be at the forefront of technological solutions in the wake of the controversial Frank Lampard phantom goal at the World Cup in South Africa. "The AFC will be using two additional assistant referees in the AFC President's Cup Finals, which will be played in Myanmar from September 24 to 26. This is our first experiment with two additional assistant referees. We need to see how we can extend this to other tournaments and matches. If goal-line technology is introduced, AFC will be among the first ones to implement."
Bin Hammam added that any technological advances would be a welcome addition to the 2011 Asian Cup in January in Qatar, but that a smooth flow of the game had to be entirely assured. "Referees are also human. They are as prone to errors as you or me. If technology can help a referee make better judgments on the pitch then I see no reason to oppose it. But having said that, there are other factors to consider like cost, universality, smooth flow of the game, and so on."
On the Asian performance in South Africa, the Qatari praised the performance of his confederation's teams, saying they have raised the bar for future editions and hailing the work of homegrown coaches in South Africa. "The performance of Asian teams represents a major breakthrough for Asian football. It shows the world that Asian football is coming of age and things will never be the same again. And all this is possible because of the new-found confidence and hard work of the Asian Member Associations.
"We should also remember that three out of our four Asian teams were coached by Asians. This shows that our technical levels are improving. Our referees also did us proud with their excellent performance on the pitch. This was a very good World Cup for Asia. I have no doubt that Asian teams will look to these performances for inspiration in the future. This is the standard they will expect to match."
Looking ahead to the goals in the coming years of his presidency, Bin Hammam, who has been responsible for overseeing the grassroots development program 'Vision Asia' across the continent, said he is placing a keen emphasis on the growth of professional football across Asia in the coming years. The reform of the Asian Champions League is very much in line with these plans. "Asian football has explosive potential for growth in all areas. We have barely started. If you look closely at what we have achieved so far and what can be achieved, you will see that there is so much to be done. It is a long, hard road ahead. Having said that, I will add that, though the priority list is long, professional football will be one of the areas that will receive our top focus."
With top clubs across Europe facing financial turmoil with debts piling up, Bin Hammam already sees one advantage for Asian football in the financial department. "If you spend more than what you have then it will definitely cause a problem, but you can see UEFA is already addressing this problem in a comprehensive manner. The scenario is very much possible anywhere in the world, but Asian clubs are far more prudent and the transfer market (and its value) is nowhere as developed as that of Europe."
In the short term, the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar is looming large on the Asian schedule with just a few months remaining before kick-off in Doha in January. Bin Hammam believes his home country is ready to take the competition to a new level - not just across Asia but for the entire world to enjoy Asian football. "I am confident that Qatar will deliver a world-class AFC Asian Cup. They are making special efforts to raise the bar high and make this competition unforgettable. The world can look forward to a great competition, featuring the best 16 teams of Asia."
It certainly looks like a triumphant homecoming for Bin Hammam and Asian football, and he has already revealed that his vote in December's highly anticipated World Cup host nation decision will be for the Gulf nation. But when asked about the steady rumours linking him to FIFA's top job to succeed Sepp Blatter, Bin Hammam gave a cautious response. "As long as I am the president of AFC, I will continue to work towards developing Asian football. At the moment, I am not interested in the FIFA presidency."