Blatter: Asia has incredible potential
© AFP

As special guests of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter together with FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke have been in Kuala Lumpur for the opening of an AFC Executive Committee meeting and the AFC Annual Awards Ceremony.

At the opening of the ExCo meeting, acting AFC President Zhang Jilong expressed his delight at the pair’s arrival: “You have the AFC's full support, as does FIFA,” he said. “You have shown the strong leadership needed for the near future. We need to work together and we need FIFA's support as we try to take the AFC to the next level. To reach this objective, it is time for stability at the AFC. With stability comes confidence; with confidence comes strength."

The FIFA President also praised the AFC for their recent efforts: “You have shown unity and solidarity to overcome a difficult situation and your good work at AFC has not been affected by the changes. In unity you find strength. I congratulate you for this team spirit. You also are the only confederation with a woman in your ExCo, a vice-president, and therefore you are also showing the way forward.

“With 300 million active participants in the world, football plays an important role in society. We have seen the socio-cultural impact of football in Asia too, in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, where the game has continued to be played despite the difficulties in those countries, or in Palestine, where we even have now a women's football league. Together, we can help prepare a better future through football."

Following the ExCo meeting, the FIFA President took part in a press conference with FIFA vice-president HRH Prince Ali, as well as theacting AFC President. Before questions were taken from the floor, Blatter spoke about how pleased he was to be in Asia once again.

A strong Asia is good for world football, but the continued strengthening of professional leagues is crucial for that potential to be realised. 
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.

“I am honoured to have been invited to the opening of the AFC ExCo and to the AFC Annual Awards,” he said. “Asia contains two thirds of the world’s population and has incredible potential. A strong Asia is good for world football, but the continued strengthening of professional leagues is crucial for that potential to be realised. FIFA provides over 70 per cent of its income to the MAs via development projects and financial assistance as well as the organisation of competitions.”

Obviously, Japan’s penalty shoot-out win over USA in the Final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup was also brought up by the journalists and the FIFA President was full of praise for their triumph in the face of adversity and announced plans to visit one of the regions most affected by this year's tsunami during next month’s FIFA Club World Cup.

“It was fantastic to what the Japanese team achieved – they showed wonderful team play throughout the competition,” he smiled. “Although it’s always about team work rather than individuals, I thought Homare Sawa was outstanding. What the team did was amazing: a country so affected by the tsunami this year won the tournament – and the Japanese people were right behind them. It shows how football can connect and bring people together after a tragedy.

“Back in May, FIFA took the decision that the FIFA Club World Cup would remain in Japan this year, as a strong show of support. Football has an important social responsibility. In Japan next month, the acting AFC President and I will visit the Sendai region for a ceremony to mark the place where the technical centre is being rebuilt.”

Excitement is already building in the Arabic world regarding Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and journalists asked the FIFA President about his views about taking the competition to new frontiers.

Blatter continued: “Although the principle of rotation stopped after the FIFA World Cup was awarded to Brazil in 2014, it was seen as positive step to go to new territories; first to Eastern Europe for the first time with Russia in 2018, and then to the Arabic world with Qatar in 2022. Going to the Arabic world is good for the World Cup and good for football.”

The FIFA President was also invited to speak at the AFC Annual Awards Ceremony. Together with the acting AFC President, he presented the AFC Diamond of Asia, to His Majesty the Sultan of Pahang Haji Ahmad Shah, as well as the AFC Men’s and Women’s Player of the Year awards to Server Djeparov and Aya Miyama respectively.