2007 AFC Cup the first professional says President

For Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed bin Hammam, professionalism is the key as the AFC Asian Cup 2007. "This is actually the first time we have put the Asian Cup in a professional way of organisation, frankly speaking,” Hammam told PA Sport. “I do believe that most or all of the competitions organised before this one were sort of amateur, in terms of the organisation. And I believe the success or failure of those competitions – in terms of organisation, in terms of fan attendance, bad or good performance – was a surprise. No one was behind it to make it successful or not. Now there are a lot of professionals working on the competition. We have also taking help, third parties if you like, to help and support us in terms of ticketing, promotion. We have the experience now of seeing how the World Cup is organised, and how UEFA organise their competitions and we have to work to make sure we learn from their approach. It is a professional way of handling the tournament.”

With four hosts, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, sharing the responsibility of ensuring that the AFC Asian Cup 2007 exceeds the standards set by previous events, the challenges have been significant. “You are dealing with different regimes, different governments and maybe also we tried to bring this competition from the amateur way of handling it to a professional way of handling it and that has also brought some conflicts, if I may say, because we wanted everything done earlier and in perfect condition and in good time,” said Hammam. “At the end of the day I think everybody has seen it as a challenge, has accepted the challenge and we are in the perfect situation to judge the good work done by the national associations, the local organising committees and the AFC. I think we are going to witness a new competition and you will see a very successful competition from all aspects. We all accepted the challenges and we want to produce a good Asian Cup. I never thought we were going to face this volume of challenges, and that’s not only because we are organising the event in four countries or the financial or logistical challenges. The most important part of it is because we want to take this competition out of the amateur way of handling it and making it professional.”

The arrival of Australia into the AFC is almost certain to raise standards on the pitch: “I think Australia can bring a lot to the competition, in terms of the standard because most of them are playing in the advanced leagues outside Australia,” Bin Hammam said. “Before, we have had players who are playing in Europe, for example, but very few. But now we have a team where maybe all, or most, of their players are playing outside and that is the big advantage for our competition because from a technical standard Australia are raising the level. We have brought in a good federation and we have also brought in a country with a good economy that can support the future revenues of the competition. The advantages of bringing Australia in mean it was worth doing. The most important thing is that we have a team that is playing at international standards and it will be a surprise to me if they are not in the final, but it will not be an easy competition for them.”

Defending champions Japan, three-time winners Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as 2002 World Cup semi-finalists South Korea should draw even more fans towards Asian football. “These are all Asian teams and we are all Asian fans and it is time to stand behind Asian football and welcome the idea,” he said. “Definitely there will be entertainment if that’s what you are looking for and the participating teams can introduce that. I really want to urge fans from all around the continent and from the four host countries to come and support Asian football.”