Australia became an Asian football nation on January 1, 2006 when it officially joined the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Nine years later could mark a significant landmark on its road to becoming a major member of the Asian Football community.
In January 2015, the country will host the region’s biggest football competition – the Asian Cup. The event takes place every four years when 16 nations battle it out for the prize.
Earlier this week, a drawing was held in Melbourne for the qualification round.
In some quarters, however, there remains lingering doubts about whether the Aussies should have ever been admitted into the AFC in the first place. These sentiments are especially prevalent the farther one gets from the land down under.
Matters weren’t helped much by the perceived arrogance the Australian national team displayed at the Asian Cup in 2007, such as team captain Lucas Neill boasting ahead of the event that Australia would go undefeated to take home the trophy. Much of the continent cheered as the Socceroos, Australia’s national team, lost the second group match against Iraq and were eliminated by Japan in the quarter-finals.
Matters have improved since then, however. The exodus of Australian talent to play for clubs from Japan, China, Korea, UAE and Qatar helps the process of engagement, and if all goes well when Australia hosts the Asian Cup in 2015, perhaps even the high-ranking Kuwaiti officials who said in 2006 that it was a mistake to admit Australia will change their tune.
Indeed hosting a successful tournament should do much to help repair Australia's image, when people from Tehran, Tashkent, Tokyo and Tianjin can visit and feel the famous Australian hospitality. Organizers expect to sell at least 500,000 tickets and estimate another 2.5 billion people will tune in via television from around the world.
The pacifying effects of this should work in both directions as hosting the Asian Cup holds great promise for raising Football’s profile in Australia.
While the game is not yet the most popular in Australia, it offers businesses, politicians and the general public a perfect way to engage with Asia – which is vital for trade and economic reasons.
Premier of the state of Victoria Ted Baillieu is certainly looking forward to the event.
“We are supporting the event because we recognize how important the Asian Cup is for football here in Australia,” said Baillieu in Melbourne.
“Australian governments want to work with the organizers to not only ensure the tournament is a great success but also to strengthen tourism, trade, investment and business ties with Asia,” he said.
“Asia is a growing and important region for Victoria and Australia and I look forward to welcoming many international business people to Melbourne both in the lead-up to and during the event."