Imagine this scenario.
The Kazakhstani football team becomes good. Really good. So good that it goes to the World Cup and Euro Cup regularly. Their clubs start to take places in the Champions League and the Europa League. This starts to get countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway really pissed off. Why should we have a country such that borders with China and is next door to Mongolia be part of UEFA? It should belong to the Asian Confederation.
In fact Kazakhstan situation is very similar to Australia, but in reverse. It was part of the Asian Confederation. But the Football Association of Kazakhstan, requested admission to UEFA after leaving the ACF in 2001, was eventually admitted as a UEFA member by the UEFA Congress upon the recommendation of the UEFA Executive Committee in April 2002. In the same way Australia left Oceania and the AFC Executive Committee admitted it in 2006. And it is on the edge of Europe. Only the far western part in the Urals can be considered in Europe, a bit like our own Christmas Island can be considered in Asia. But Kazakhstan national team and its Premier League do not seem to worry the powerhouses of Europe. If Kazakhstan won the European Cup and its teams European Club competitions who knows whether they would face the same rumblings of kicking them out of Europe and we have heard about Australia and Asia.
This issue has been raised recently in the wake of Australia winning the Asian Cup. Most tweeters congratulated the team, but we also had a few that questioned our right to be there in the first place.
But the idea of Australia in Asia was not only questioned by people who came from an Asian country, I’ve read plenty of Italian tweets being baffled why a country in Oceania was playing in an Asian competition. And even in a major UK newspaper they advocated the exclusion of Australia.
The bottom line? It shouldn’t have been allowed. (admitting Australia in the Asian Football Confederation) Had FIFA treated the Oceania confederation with more respect and guaranteed one place at the World Cup, Australia might not have felt the need to break away; and, when they did, FIFA should have stepped in and outlawed the move. Countries cannot choose their continent as if from a catalogue. Yet FIFA, and Asia, are already complicit in a convenient illusion, highlighted on the AFC’s website as their tournament progressed.
I personally find the concept of an ‘Asia’ ranging outdated and anachronistic. It is and Eurocentric concept, and it is surprising that it is used by some living in ‘Asian’ countries to exclude Australia. Do Lebanon and Japan have more things in common that Australia and Japan? Would a Korean see a Syrian as a ‘fellow Asian?’
Furthermore FIFA’s confederations do not strictly follow geographical imperatives. Guyana and Suriname are geographically located in the South American continent but because they are considered “culturally” Caribbean, they play with the other Caribbean nations in the CONCACAF. Not only Kazakhstan is an ‘Asian’ country in UEFA. Azerbaijan is in UEFA although it is primarily situated in Asian Transcaucasia. Pacific island territory of Guam should be in Oceania but is in the AFC. And of course we have Israel, which won the Asian Cup in 1964, expelled for political reasons in 1974, and it is now in UEFA.
It is also true that the Asian Confederation is huge, spanning half the globe. Many have supported the idea of creating a ‘West Asia’ confederation and a ‘Asian-Pacific’ confederation which would include East Asian and Oceania countries. That concept is much more in tune with the real geopolitical situation in the world, rather some antiquated Western idea of geography on the 19th century. However logic and FIFA haven’t really being together. I think many in Asia would not want to endanger any power they have in FIFA or risking having less World Cup spot.
But while the idea that Australia doesn’t belong to the Asian Confederation is ludicrous, we do have a responsibility to be an involved and valuable member.
Australia has to take its membership seriously
One of the reasons why Australia was admitted to the ACF it was because it was felt it would improve the level of football in the confederation. But apart for providing more competition and winning championships it has taken this responsibility as much as it should have? Janek Speight has mentioned about the lack of players from the ACF and reiterates an idea that has been discussed for some time, and that should be implemented in the A-League.
Most Asian countries employ the 3+1 rule, which states the club can have three visa spots from any nation in the world, with an extra spot open for a player from a neighbouring Asian nation. The same rule applies for participants in the Asian Champions League, which means Australian clubs can only use three of their five visa players when competing in the prestigious tournament.
Changing A-League visa rules to a 4+1, and slowly moving towards a 3+1 (if FFA is determined to reduce the total number to four) would be a smart move, and could open up a lot more doors for clubs wanting to cash in on the fastest-growing region in the world. With current foreign imports signed to multi-year contracts, it’s certainly not a short-term option, so planning needs to start now to give clubs a chance to prepare.
The idea has been floated around FFA before, and David Gallop has admitted the advantages of the move. He realises that our links with Asia need to strengthen.
The other issue that Australia needs to address to remain a good ‘AFC member’ is promotion and relegation. I’ve discussed the problems and merits of promotion and relegation in the A-League in a previous post. Michael Lynch also outlines the dangers. But the AFC apparently wants all domestic competitions in its confederations to have this system. There are problems in having relegation in a league where teams can be financially unstable and where being relegated may mean their demise. However if that’s what our confederation requires, we can’t put out fingers in our ears and sing lah lah lah. But we should be intelligent to be creative. We can’t be part of an organisation and ignore its requirements. We are not ‘special’. If there are difficulties I am sure we could come up with some creative solution. As it happens politically we want to be part of the region but often we turn our patronising noses up by feeling somewhat ‘better’. This is beautifully explained in a great article by Scott McIntyre.
There will be always members in the AFC that don’t want Australia, but we have every right to be there. However we have to be actively a participant and be an equal amongst many.