Silly doubts about the 2015 Asian Cup

One moment raised my eyebrows in the otherwise innocuous interview Frank Lowy gave to Eddie McGuire on the Fox Footy Channel.

It was the interviewer’s curious scepticism of the likely fruits borne by the 2015 Asian Cup, to be hosted by Australia, to which McGuire referred as a possible 'lemon’.

Respected Sydney Morning Herald columnist Richard Hinds later echoed this notion.

"So disastrous was the 2022 World Cup bid, and so parlous the state of the game's finances, only partially revealed in the sanitised final version of the Smith report, there is a natural cynicism about the FFA's ability to run the event," Hinds said.

Where does this come from, this mysterious, unexplained hypothesis that Football Federation Australia is somehow incapable of organising the 2015 Asian Cup? Where is the evidence for the 'natural cynicism’? And who says there is any?

First, Australia has an impeccable record in organising major international events. And you can include in this the football events and those mounted by this country’s football governors over the years.

The 1981 and 1993 FIFA World Youth Cups hosted by Australia, each with 16 participants like the Asian Cup, went off seamlessly. Both were organised by a governing body which is unkindly recalled by some today as a herd of donkeys.

The current regime’s only major international event so far, the FIFA Congress in Sydney in 2007, full of ceremony, pomp and protocol, went off without the most minor glitch.

Indeed, apart from the botch of the Marston Medal affair in Brisbane this year, you cannot fault much-maligned FFA for its event management.

But, in any case, let’s stop for a second and consider what will define the 2015 Asian Cup as a success.

Richard Hinds for instance asks how hard it will be to fill an Australian stadium for a match between, say, Oman and Uzbekistan. A decent question, but not entirely relevant to what the real challenges and opportunities of the tournament are.

The Asian Cup is riddled with games with small crowds and which do not excite the citizenry of the host nation. They happened in Qatar in 2011 and in the tournament before it, hosted jointly by Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Yet each tournament has been deemed to have been a success, because of the vast TV audiences it reached across the Asian continent and the brand enrichment it delivered for Asian football. And for the hosts.

This is the opportunity for Australia (if only someone would tell Eddie McGuire).

As I have argued in this space many times before, football is a major vehicle, THE major vehicle, by which Australia as a nation has an opportunity to engage with Asia in the 'Asian century’. This is a claim no other sport can make. This is the reason why Lowy’s desire to have us host the Asian Cup is both astute and admirable.

It’s not just about football. It’s about us as a nation and about where we want to belong.

In 2015 Australia will be hosting the Asian Cup, the first time an Asian championship of any sport will be held on our soil. Think of what that will say to its audiences both in Australia and across the Asian continent.

It will tell Australians that, despite the map-makers, we are part of Asia. It will tell Asians that we are among them and want to be among them.

The audiences for the tournament will number in the hundreds of millions. Australia will be a showcase to the world’s largest continent, of which we are now inextricably part and want to be for our own survival as an economically prosperous nation.

That will be the measure of an Australia-hosted Asian Cup’s success or otherwise.

There will be the odd dull game and there might be some games where the hot dog sellers will outnumber the crowd (though I doubt it).

But a 'lemon’ it will not be.