Australia has an international reputation for hosting world-class sporting events. We have held exceptional Olympic and Commonwealth Games, World Chamionships and World Cups.

I thought Gangnam Style was more of a horsey thing… Pic: AFP

The organisation has been superb and the action on the field outstanding.

But the missing piece of the puzzle is Australia’s failure to fully capitalise on many of these events away from the sporting action. 

In January 2015 the eyes of the world and of Asia will be on Australia for the biggest sporting event in this country in a decade.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup Australia will be played over three weeks in January 2015 in Queensland, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The Asian Cup is the second oldest continental football championship and is Asia’s equivalent of the Euros. It has a television reach of 2.5 billion people, and is the biggest football tournament ever to be played in Australia.

While lovers of football will see some of the best action the round-ball game has to offer, the Local Organising Committee and State and Federal Governments are focussed on the fact that there has never been a better opportunity to showcase Australia to football-loving Asia.

Football is one of the few sports which links Australia with virtually all of the countries of Asia, where 80 million people were playing the game in 2006 and as many as 380 million will be playing by 2020.

The Asian Cup in 2015 provides a unique opportunity to use sport to drive tourism, trade and investment, business, diplomacy and community engagement.

It comes at the perfect time given Australia’s renewed focus on Asia.

The Federal Government’s recently released Australia in the Asian Century White Paper acknowledges that sport provides obvious opportunities for businesses to develop links with Asian markets.

We want the tournament to open doors for government, to open doors for business, to open doors for tourism and to create new community connections.

The fact that governments have invested in the Asian Cup shows that they understand and are committed to using the opportunities football presents.

But beyond the Asian Cup the engagement opportunity through football arises in a number of different ways that will stand us in good stead to 2015 and well beyond.

Last year Australian national teams played 49 matches against Asian teams.

Australian teams have played in 15 different Chinese cities in the past six years.

Engagement with regional cities in Asia, which might otherwise prove challenging to co-ordinate and organise, occurs as a matter of course in football, providing an opportunity for all levels of government, business, education and other interests to be represented in new, untapped markets.

And as well as our national teams, Hyundai A-League clubs play against Japanese, Chinese, South Korean and other South East Asian club opponents in the Asian Champions League.

This again provides opportunity to welcome and engage with delegations from Australia’s major trading partners such as Japan, China and Korea Republic.

As of January there were 44 Australian nationals playing their football in AFC nations, including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and the UAE.

These players are great ambassadors for our country. While Australians may not know all of our footballers, in Asia they are household names.

An example of the value of our players can be seen from a NSW Government trade mission to China led by Premier Barry O’Farrell. A business breakfast was organised in Beijing during the mission and Australian footballer Joel Griffiths, a player at Beijing Guoan FC, was guest of honour.

As someone at the event remarked: “Joel Griffiths is a big star. To the public in Beijing, he’s as big as Nicole Kidman in terms of famous Australians.” 

The mass appeal of football means it is ingrained in Asian culture and often figures of high-standing in Asian society are actively involved in the administration of Asian football.

While these are good examples, these engagement opportunities are not being fully exploited to enable other members of the community to engage with our Asian friends.

Unless proactive steps are taken, Australia will miss the opportunity to fully exploit the possibilities provided through football in Asia.

The AFC Asian Cup will be a “Festival of Football” and be a whole of Australia opportunity to create harmony for the diverse countries who will qualify.

Today at the Lowy Institute for International Policy a workshop will examine further how we can use football to strengthen our relationship with Asia. Sport is a powerful tool for good in the community and we want the AFC Asian Cup 2015 to be an example of how we can maximise the opportunity sport provides.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDST.

Most commented


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    • S.L says:

      05:23am | 23/11/12

      The biggest problem with football in Australia is the pinacle of the sport is overseas and players must leave our shores to get the big bucks where with rival codes their “garden of Eden” is right here.
      Every year the A league sees top young talent head overseas to bigger clubs and competitions. In time they will stay here for longer as our local game gains in popularity and attracts more sponsors.  The Asian Cup will bring much more World Wide interest than the Rugby codes or Australian Rules could ever dream of and hopefully tourism and the local game is the big winner when it all comes together…...................

    • Al B says:

      11:01am | 23/11/12

      It is in an important transition phase though. And we are at least developing the players that leagues overseas will look at. Granted some of those players going over dont work out and are coming back…but bringing with them a heightened level of intensity to their attitudes to training especially, which is lifting standards.

      As for wages, the opportunities in europe are diminishing and as the author points out, the future is Asia. And we are part of that now, in football and economically so i think the wage gap will not be so great in the future. Unfortunately we do have an overly regulated and labour market with compulsory CBAs and caps in football.

      So the chance of seeing the sort of super clubs here that are the lifeblood of club football internationally is diminished by the equal opportunity mantra our sports here cling to. And thats not even getting into the wage floors that stress the finances and priorities of small clubs.

      The Asian Cup is coming at the perfect time for the evolution of our league. Bravo to FFA for pursuing it…the tournament has a lot of potential and it will be interesting to see what having the Cup in such a saleable and attractive location does for its marketability in Asia. Its about more than just the success of the tournament here.

    • David V. says:

      12:33pm | 23/11/12

      The salary cap argument is complex. Clubs need to have financial responsibility and not overspend to bankruptcy. Furthermore, it may also encourage homegrown young talent and not bringing in overpaid imports or Australian has-beens (some have failed abysmally in the A-League). On the other hand, it is not conducive to player retention but this is partly negated by the fact nearly every other league on the world save for England, Spain, Germany and Italy, has to deal with this problem.

    • acotrel says:

      05:46am | 23/11/12

      I will start watching football when it involves samurai swords.

    • fml says:

      07:26am | 23/11/12

      More football for me!

    • TimB says:

      07:28am | 23/11/12

      ...This is actually an awesome idea.

    • sunny says:

      09:46am | 23/11/12

      Nah soccer will get a bad rep if players start falling onto the ground clutching a limb then rolling around in the throes of immense agony ..oh wait a minute

    • TimB says:

      10:00am | 23/11/12

      Bwahaha Sunny. Well played.

    • fml says:

      07:15am | 23/11/12

      Keep the visitors off the bus to frankston!

      Seriously though, is there anything football can’t do? ahhhhhhh. smile

    • freethrow says:

      09:49am | 23/11/12

      Entertain you?

    • fml says:

      10:21am | 23/11/12

      Who are you? Robbie Williams?

    • freethrow says:

      11:04am | 23/11/12


    • Bill says:

      07:16am | 23/11/12

      I thought this story was going to be about football, not soccer.

      There’s only one sport called football in Australia, and that’s our national code.

    • marley says:

      07:55am | 23/11/12

      Sigh.  You really are becoming quite boring.  However, if you think that Aussie rules football presents better economic opportunities for us in Asia than soccer does, by all means, make your case.

    • S.L says:

      08:16am | 23/11/12

      That’s right Bill the only truly national code…...and it’s played with a round ball.
      When we get international (or even interstate) competitions for the great southern code I’ll bow to your bias…........

    • NS Welshmen says:

      08:51am | 23/11/12

      Me too! Should read “Soccer should kick Australia closer to Asia”.

    • Andrew says:

      09:09am | 23/11/12

      I thought it would have made sense in the context of Asia caring about it. Oh and the picture seems to give it away. It seems you just wanted to do the typical whinge about what it is called.

      If the biggest problem you have is that some people call it football and you think it should be called soccer then you are doing alright.

    • Art_Of_The_Troll says:

      09:32am | 23/11/12

      Actually, there are at least three:  Rubgy Football, Australian Rules Football and Association Football.  Futsal could probably claim a little bit as well.

      “Soccer” as a term is believed to have been first coined by an English gent, Charles Wredford Brown, as a colloquialism of the “assoc” part of Association.  It is most widely used in the United States. 

      Mr Brown is also well-regarded as the inventor of “Rugger” to decribe Rugby Football, amongst others.  This all happened in the latter half of the 19th Century.

      Since Association Football was here first, the only argument you have to calling Australian Rules “Football” is a “might is right” fallacy; that since in this one country it enjoys more financial support (though more people play Association Football than Australian Rules, so make of that what you will), it is “what gets to be called Football”. 

      It’s all a nonsense of course, but if you’re going to troll with facts, make sure you’re using ones that don’t make you look like an idiot as well.

    • TheRealDave says:

      09:35am | 23/11/12

      You mean like the NRL, State of Origin, International test matches, World Cups in Rugby league or Provincial Competition involving 3 Countries, Internation test Matches and World Cups in Union?

      With results that actually make it into the Sports report of the nightly news bulletin wink

    • Bruno says:

      11:45am | 23/11/12

      @TheRealDave - the world cup in rugby league (interspersed with laughter). You mean the competition where Australians make up the majority of the numbers in most sides. You want Australians of ethnic backgrounds to “integrate” and “assimilate” but when it comes to Rugby League you want them to play for Lebanon, Greece, Italy and Russia. I bet this hypocrisy has never crossed your mind has it?

    • David V. says:

      12:18pm | 23/11/12

      Ummm the Irish football team is half made up of players with only Irish roots and not born and bred in Ireland. Cue Tony Cascarino who had a fake Irish connection.

    • TaxpayersFC says:

      09:13am | 23/11/12

      Do we really need the Lowy Institute to push soccer - loses some credibility when making a tenuous link so that Frank can argue for more money from the Government (ie taxpayers) to plough into a game.  None of the sports where players become millionaires and they get millions from TV should get our money.  This is a silly fap piece to get some traction for lobbying.  Where is Tory ICB!

    • ZSRenn says:

      09:42am | 23/11/12

      The minute you tell a Chinese male that you are from Australia. This is all he wants to talk about. Not really being a football fan I have had to learn how to talk about football in Chinese.

    • David V. says:

      12:37pm | 23/11/12

      Chinese fans love bashing their own national team and FA, with good reason. They are not even an Asian football power, and the players are some of the most unsportsmanlike on the world. Every time Australian teams play Chinese teams you see plenty of their unsporting behaviour.

    • Black Dynamite says:

      09:42am | 23/11/12

      The problem with football Australia is that it’s a vastly inferior product to almost every competition worldwide and the alternatives are vast.

      I’m not patriotic enough to spend 2 hours watching a bunch of people kick a ball around back and forth with little chance of anything spectacular happening when I could watch one of the many competitions around the world where most build ups into an attack are more spectacular than any goal scored in the A league.

      Black Dynamite

    • fml says:

      10:07am | 23/11/12

      Why is a goal worth 6 points?

      why not 1? If it has to be more than one? why not 3563?

    • David V. says:

      09:50am | 23/11/12

      Football is the only sport that is worth living for. I don’t mind rugby league or Aussie Rules, but football is what I was brought up on because only in football does representing and cheering for your club and country take on new dimensions.

      The idea of Australian Rules being the unique “indigenous game” is laughable. Rugby, Rugby League and cricket have all a legitimate case for being as much part of it, given their development on this continent. And football is part of every country it is played in.

      Where else do we have great men like George Best, Stan Bowles and Brian Clough? They epitomised all the best of British football for me.

    • HappyG says:

      10:23am | 23/11/12

      David V. Don’t get me wrong but the three gentlemen you have mentioned are two drunks and a crook. Love them though I did,how about Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and my all time favourite Ian Rush ( Liverpool bias showing here)

    • S.L says:

      10:44am | 23/11/12

      Valid points David but many local officianardos here would ask “who” with maybe the exception of George Best.
      The insular bias of our sporting media I lay blame to their ignorance more than people just having their heads in the sand!
      I remember as a 5 year old Bobby Charlton was out here for a few games. At the time he was a member of the current World Cup holding team and I hadn’t a clue who he was. Only when SBS came onboard did we see Association Football on TV with any regularity except for “the Big Match” with Brian Moore. (Cue in that iconic theme!)

    • David V. says:

      10:55am | 23/11/12

      Brian Clough was a genius manager. Drinking doesn’t diminish his greatness.

      Paul Gascoigne was sheer genius and a joy to watch- it’s a shame the media’s lies destroyed him.

    • David V. says:

      11:26am | 23/11/12

      Football was/is fabulous, except that back in the day you expected plenty of homegrown players, now we see the leagues flooded with imports who have not improved the game at all.

    • fml says:

      11:33am | 23/11/12

      David V,

      “now we see the leagues flooded with imports who have not improved the game at all. “

      I disagree, the imports have not helped the english national team, but it has definitely improved the standard of the league and most definitely created an interest in tv audiences from those countries, hence increasing revenue.

    • David V. says:

      12:03pm | 23/11/12

      The same might have been said for almost any other league but anyone who thinks the game today is better than it was a generation ago is kidding themselves. In the 60s, 70s and 80s there were lots of richly talented homegrown footballers.

      England aren’t the only ones who’ve fallen in international terms, Scotland are even worse. And Brazil are a pathetic shadow of their former greatness. Even their last two World Cup wins were done in very “un-Brazilian” fashion based more on pragmatism than panache. Right now Spain are the real deal, Germany are pretenders who are soft as a marshmallow.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      11:09am | 23/11/12

      I don’t mind watching soccer for the riots and hooliganism but then I suppose if I watched a game that had nil all draws I’d be pretty pissed off too…....

    • David V. says:

      02:19pm | 23/11/12

      At the end of the day, we must get our kids playing ANY sport. Rather than sitting round do nothing, with their health under scrutiny.

    • Shane* says:

      02:55pm | 23/11/12

      There is an inevitability that Aussie sport fans don’t like to acknowledge: Australia is going global.

      Once upon a time a team was tied fiercely to a suburb and that was any child’s only option if they lived there.

      Now, that child is cheering for Manchester United vs Bayern Munich, watching it on their iPad with live score updates of Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls pops up in a window, while outside their Bulldogs-crazy dad mows their lawn in Hawthorn.

      The source of AFL/NRL dominance has always been parochialism. And while that is not necessarily fading, it is definitely being eclipsed by global sports that sever all ties with goegraphy.

      It is sad to hear people maintain that the status quo will remain unchanged. The money behind football and basketball and tennis and golf and any truly global game is so massive in comparison to any local backwater game that it beggars belief.

      Why should a kid follow the Canberra Raiders (be part of a small group of followers) when they can just as easily follow FC Barcelona and be part of the biggest and most popular group?

    • David V. says:

      03:30pm | 23/11/12

      Parochialism is part of football, tribalism is the essence of our sport.


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