When Southeast Asia’s football associations get things done right
You can get some idea of the football situation in any country you visit by spending a few days looking at the local newspapers and websites.
When the national federation makes regular appearances in the media then you know that all is not well.
Not so in Southeast Asia. Barely a week goes by without some major debate or criticism of the powers-that-be
Few football associations around the world are regarded with affection by local fans but once the season kicks off, they often take a back seat, referred to in passing but rarely the centre of debate.
The focus is on the football and you can go days and weeks without the FA being mentioned at all.
Not so in Southeast Asia. Barely a week goes by without some major debate or criticism of the powers-that-be. In countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, the national federations are part of the everyday football conversations that is simply not the case in most of Europe and even plenty of other Asian nations.
This is not a good sign and shows that all is not well.
The criticism may not be undeserved. The ruling bodies in much of the region have not exactly been at the top of their games in recent years. There is no reason to go into much detail in describing the list of incompetence and, in some cases, much worse –they are seared into the memory of all football fans.
Yet, there have been some changes. In all four countries, there is a new guard in charge. Thailand saw the back of long-serving and controversial FA chief Worawi Makudi in 2015 and the following year elected Somyot Poompanmuong instead.
Few around the world can match having an FA chief in prison and a year-long FIFA suspension handed out
The new man is not to everyone’s taste but he at least marks a change from his unpopular and scandal-surrounded predecessor.
The less said about Indonesia’s 21st century administrators the better. Few around the world can match having an FA chief in prison and a year-long FIFA suspension handed out. But a new president and new league have raised hopes that finally, perhaps, a corner is being approached, if not quite turned.
The old guard at the Football Association of Singapore was replaced earlier this year and the Malaysian counterpart also has a new boss in the shape of Tunku Ismail Sultan. This is a man who brought success to Johor Darul Ta’zim and has a genuine desire to make a difference and bring about change.
These are all interesting and encouraging developments, though there are caveats, doubts and a necessity to keep a close eye on all that goes on. There will always be missteps, mistakes as well as decisions that will not go down well with many.
But while there will be times when criticism is right, proper and justified and there will also be times when credit should be given.
Hosting international tournaments, even ones that are not going to be making too many headlines around the world, is positive
Like now. There have been encouraging signs recently that the region is getting a few things right at least.
In the final week of July, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced that two of its biggest youth tournaments in 2018 will take place in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The former will host the AFC’s U19 Championships while the Under 16s will be heading to Malaysia for their big bash.
This is to be welcomed. Hosting international tournaments, even ones that are not going to be making too many headlines around the world, is positive.
First of all, someone has to do it. It is the responsibility of all confederation members to put their hands up if they can. Without willing hosts, these kind of vital tournaments have no future.
More than that though, it shows a certain sort of forward thinking on the part of federations in the region (remember, Thailand just hosted the qualification tournament for next year’s AFC under-23 Championship).
It gives a focus on youth football in these countries. Hosting ensures representation and brings some pressure, expectation and even a faint sense of duty to perform well. It helps ensure that youth coaches are given more of the time, tools and talent that they need.
It helps to ensure training camps and means that it is more likely that clubs, when applicable, will make their young talent available. It helps to focus media attention on youth football and shine that light of exposure and awareness that is necessary to help the grassroots grow as much as possible. And it helps to ensure that more money trickles down from the top.
Dealing with the sponsors that are involved in such tournaments is also useful experience and the stresses and strains that come with organising big events are good practice for the future.
Starting at youth tournaments and getting those right and the next steps are obvious. It helps to put the building blocks in place to host future Asian Cups, even the 24-team editions.
Do that successfully and then the big dreams of the biggest sporting tournament in the world will not seem quite so far away.
Even without that, the fact that Indonesia and Malaysia have put their hands up to host major continental youth tournaments, to follow in the recent footsteps of Thailand, is to be commended.
It bodes well for the future both of the young players in those countries and football as a whole. Good job everyone, now let's make these tournaments a success in the short-term and the long.