FIFA President Gianni Infantino looked forward to “the biggest year for football in Asia so far” in his speech to the 31st AFC Congress, noting not only the power that tournaments and events on the continent have to boost the game but also their impact on wider society by amplifying public health messages for the good of wider society.
The gathering of Asia’s member associations was held virtually for the second consecutive year as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, but the FIFA President affirmed that distance had no negative impact on the collaboration between the governing body and colleagues across Asia.
“This year has been a great year for the partnership between FIFA and the AFC”, said Mr Infantino. “We have been working together very closely in what has been a challenging year, but I want to thank you for adhering to the strict health protocols because, as President Shaikh Salman [bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa] said – and we have exactly the same line on this, #HealthComesFirst.”
The collaboration was in both messaging and deeds. FIFA utilised its strengthened financial and governance status to support member associations through the distinctive COVID-19 Relief Fund, whilst member associations across Asia and the world supported FIFA’s social campaigns. #ReachOut used the platform of football to raise awareness of tools to combat mental health whilst #ACTogether promotes a unified approach to minimising the worst excesses of the pandemic.
On the field, Asia will be the focal point of attention for the world of football during 2022 with the United Arab Emirates hosting the FIFA Club World Cup followed by a FIFA Congress in Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup which kicks off in November. The youth will also have their chance to shine with the FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup taking place in India.
“We have recently celebrated the ‘One Year to Go’ milestone ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar – the greatest show on Earth”, added the FIFA President. “It is also the biggest event – sporting and social – in the world with more than half of the world’s population focusing on Asia.
“I’ve been in football for two decades and I have never witnessed a host so ready to host such a big event as Qatar. One year before the event, we have all stadiums ready, the infrastructure is fantastic: it will be not only the best ever World Cup, it will also be truly unique.”
The President reinforced the need for member associations across the AFC to have their needs recognised as part of the wide-ranging consultation process on the future of football, including the chance to dream of representation for national teams in global tournaments.
“We cannot have football confined to one part of the world: it has to be open”, Mr Infantino continued. “It is a crucial topic, we know that. It is our responsibility – and that of the global football community – to listen to everyone, to hear everyone, to consult with everyone and it is important that you are able to make your voice heard. We need to open the doors and we need to be inclusive for the entire world.”
Whilst acknowledging the need to collaboratively build a greater stage for football’s future, the FIFA President could not conceal his excitement about Asian football’s global year in prospect.
“Asia is ready to shine on the global stage”, he enthused. “Asia is ready to promote football globally and Asia will also be promoted globally, because we can expect only the best of the best when it comes to Asia.”