In Part Two of his exclusive interview with Football Channel Asia, HRH Prince Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah talks about Australia’s involvement in Asia and the growth of football in Asia.
You were Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Two months after the final, how do you reflect on the tournament and how Australia performed as host?
I was extremely pleased and proud to be part of the team. I think we saw some extraordinary talent, matches and the fans were incredible. Australia did an impeccable job as hosts and they have set a truly high benchmark for the next edition of Asian Cup.
Speaking of Australia, they’re now a full member of the ASEAN Football Federation. What does Australia bring to ASEAN and how can their membership benefit the region?
I believe we have a lot to learn as a region. Australia is doing very well in world football and there could potentially be exchanges in the areas of technical, development and women’s football.
Japan is very active in ASEAN; do you think Australia does enough to help develop football in the region or would you like to see them do more?
ASEAN has a long way to go in emulating the technical abilities of Australian football. However, for that to happen, we need to learn and adapt from the best practices. In the name of solidarity, we can merge the best football brains to ensure none of the regions are left behind and in this case, ASEAN indeed needs to tap the skills and experience in bringing up our own levels of football standards especially in the technical aspects.
This is about the development of football. I believe we can emerge together to be a global powerhouse. I hope to see more exchanges between Australia and ASEAN that will be mutually beneficial. My dream along with some of the other ASEAN nations is to have ASEAN host the World Cup. However, for that dream to be realised, we will need a lot of help from countries like Japan and Australia; both have a lot to offer in football development and technical assistance due to their own success, experience and expertise.
It has long been speculated that Australia would participate in the next AFF Suzuki Cup. What is the status of that and when can we expect confirmation?
I’d rather not speculate on that. Let’s leave that to the ASEAN Football Federation to decide.
In Australia there has been a lot of discussion from the A-League club owners about wanting to expand the A-League to include up to six teams from South East Asia. What is your response to that?
In theory it seems like a good idea especially in terms of exposure for ASEAN teams. However, I think we still need to discuss and study the feasibility of the idea before we can come up with a concrete plan. We are still toying with the idea and have yet to be formally approached. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account including our own local league schedules, guidelines by the governing bodies and of course feedback from involved stakeholders. Irrespective of where we send our teams, the most important and relevant aim is to ensure our teams are being exposed to leagues that are of a certain standard and quality to ensure optimum experience.
Naturally that takes us to the ASEAN Super League. Do you support the introduction of a Super League and where is that process at?
Absolutely. From what I understand, we would kick off in 2016. I believe we are waiting for ratification from FIFA.
Looking at Asia more broadly, the growth of the game is vitally important and getting football fans in Asia to become fans of Asian club football is crucial. The AFC Champions League is the showpiece tournament, but there have been some complaints that it’s too sterile and lacks quality promotion. Do you think AFC/WSG do enough to engage the fans with quality promotion and programming?
I think it will take time for fans to be fully committed to club football in Asia. We have long embraced a culture of being super fans of EPL, La Liga, and other leagues. However, I think that this is slowly changing. You see more fans today of club football especially in countries like China. As we progress in our performance quality, more fans will be engaged, I am confident of that.
Finally, you’re Chairman of the AFC Development Committee, what changes do you think need to be made to develop the standard of Asian football long term, especially in light of Asia’s poor showing at the World Cup last year?
As I mentioned earlier, we have the potential to emerge as an Asian superpower in football but unfortunately this has not been realised. Looking at our global football family, we would like to learn from their own journey that had made the formidable force they are today. As the AFC VP, former Chairman of AFC’s technical committee and the Chairman of the recently concluded Asian Cup in Australia, and now Chairman of AFC Development Committee,
I have started my own learning curve especially in the area of technical development. I am also working with AFC to establish the Centre of Excellence in Putrajaya. This will firmly put in place Malaysia as a football hub in Asia and I’m steadfast in my commitment to provide assistance in my capacity. With the establishment of this centre, we are providing avenues for more Asian nations to learn and adapt best practices in football. I would like more focus to be made on technical development and women’s football. I feel we can tap into FIFA’s experience and expertise to bring about an improvement to our abilities. We are hungry as a continent and I think with the right plans and structures in place, our appetite for success in world football will only grow.