AFC nominates ten Asian leagues for upgrading

Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed bin Hammam is driving plans to upgrade ten of the region's top leagues to make them more commercially viable and attractive to fans. A Professional Leagues Ad Hoc Committee headed by Japan Football Association President Saburo Kawabuchi is probing the overhaul which was sparked by the failure of AFC nations at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where only newcomers Australia made it past the group stage. The AFC determined the bad results were due to poor competition structures in Asia and a decision to revamp the leagues was proposed, along with changes being considered for a new format for the AFC Champions League, Asia's premier club competition, from 2009.

The study is evaluating the current league and club infrastructure of 22 countries and aiming for at last ten countries - Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, India, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - re-launching their leagues during 2009-2012 and meeting all minimum requirements by 2012.

"This project is very big and will take a lot of hard work and dedication," Kawabuchi told AFP. "But I am putting this as top priority for the Japan Football Association to assist in making it a success. "We are seriously cooperating with the AFC to improve this special project which has been designed to raise the level of football in Asian clubs."

Bin Hammam, who is expected to be re-elected to the AFC presidency in May, gives the English Premier League as an example of what he would like to see Asian football leagues strive for. "There are different things to be learned from many leagues around the world," Bin Hammam said. "We look mainly at some of the European leagues, and particularly the commercial success of the FA Premier League. And within Asia, we have looked at our best practices. The J-League demonstrates many positive elements that other leagues around Asia can learn a lot from."

The AFC chief also put the focus on the business aspect of football, with investors keen to make more money and players wanting a better professional environment to improve their skills. "We are creating a football industry where we can invite business people to invest in Asian clubs," said Bin Hammam. "We believe that the future is in Asia, and there are big clubs comparable to those in Europe [but] we need to ensure that they have the right structure in place to benefit from investment from within or outside Asia. The overall motivation behind the program is the need and ambition to ensure that Asian football is managed professionally, within a commercial infrastructure, and is providing entertainment for the fans," he told AFP.

"Today, football can be, and must be, managed as a business commodity while still protecting the integrity of the sport. So within the AFC region there are many opportunities to re-develop the national leagues, and also our AFC continental club competitions, to ensure we are competitive and progressive," he said.

See also: AFC targets transparancy for professional leagues (7 Feb)