AFC must define who is "Best" and who is "Asian"

The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed that players who are unable to travel to Kuala Lumpur on 30 November will not be considered for the Asian Player of the Year award and that its three finalists from 10 shortlisted nominees are Saudi Arabians Sami Al Jaber and Hamad Al Montashari along with Uzbekistan's Maksim Shatskikh. Both Al Jaber and Al Montashari play in Saudi Arabia for Al Hilal and Al Ittihad respectively while Shatskikh is at Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev.

Because of known travel problems, the policy effectively eliminated five of the six European-based players who made the shortlist: South Korea's Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo, Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura and Iran's Ali Karimi. Completing the list of 10 were Iran's Javad Nekounam of Pas and Saudi goalkeeper Mabrouk Zayed of Asian champions Al Ittihad.

Mr Sam Ka, general secretary of the Korean Football Association, told Reuters newsagency that AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam had sent a fax to Korea explaining the body's stance. "We understand that it would be better for the player to attend the ceremony, but we still believe that the best player deserves the award, not the player who is able to attend," said Ka. "It's not only about Park or Lee Young-pyo. There's Nakamura, Nakata and other European-based players who cannot win as well."

Given the title of the award, the policy decision and the choice of the three grand finalist has caused confusion amongst football fans.'s John Duerden, for instance, said he understood from discussion with the AFC "that if any player wasn’t in Kuala Lumpur to collect the award in person ... then he would forfeit the prize which would then go to the person with the second highest number of votes". That, he said, "was shocking enough" but "the fact that Park, or Karimi, or Lee, or Nakamura, didn’t even make the top three is mystifying."

He asked that, if a "voting panel consisting of AFC Executive Committee members, national coaches from the 45 member associations and AFC’s commercial partner, World Sport Group voted to narrow the nominees to three" ... could it be that they "were not allowed to choose for players that may not have been able to attend the ceremony, for example, those in the middle of the European season? Surely not, but a look at the chain of events raises suspicions."

Perhaps the AFC should consider changing from Asian Player of the Year to the Player in Asia of the Year award although that too could prove controversial if "non-Asian" players in competitions within the Asian Football Confederation were not to be included.

This semantic problem seems to have already caused the AFC to scrap the Coach of the Year prize for 2005 because, as Reuters reported, "the most successful coaches over the past year are not Asian".

With largely Caucasian-peopled Australia now becoming a member of the AFC, surely these definitions should be clarified around residency or citizenship or competition. Otherwise misinterpretations or racism may spoil the recognition of Asia's football champions and their coaches and teams.

Take for instance the following complaints by Wanchai Rujawongsanti in Thailand's Bangkok Post regarding the possibility that securing World Cup finals berth representing Asia "in the future could become just a formality for the Aussies":

"First and foremost, it would be ridiculous if Australia represent Asia in the World Cup or other major football tournaments. It would be like a beauty queen who looks more like a farang representing Thailand in an international beauty pageant.

"Accepting Australia could be tantamount to Asia losing a World Cup slot as the Aussies are better than most - or even all - Asian countries ... AFC's decision to grant Australia membership appeared to be for political rather than footballing reasons," he said.

For harmony, AFC needs to define both who is "Best" and who is "Asian".

See also: Asia's best players getting global recognition (7 Oct)