Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa has stated that there is a desire among Gulf nations to review Australia’s membership of the regional governing body.
Australia switched from its home confederation of Oceania in 2006, seeking a more competitive standard of international and continental club football. It is currently hosting the 2015 Asian Cup, where it will face South Korea in Saturday’s final – Australia’s second appearance in three attempts.
However, critics of Australia’s AFC membership – who are significantly but not exclusively based in the west of the continent according to Sheikh Salman – believe Australia has secured an easier route to the Fifa World Cup finals due to the greater number of qualification places given to Asia, with benefits not flowing substantially in the other direction.
The Arabian Gulf was not represented at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the fear is that Australia’s presence makes bridging the gap to the continent’s traditional heavyweights Japan and South Korea even harder as economic powerhouses China and India make substantial increases to their football investment.
“Yes, it is true, there are indications that confirm that there is a desire among West Asian federations to remove Australia from the AFC,” Sheikh Salman told Dubai newspaper Al-Ittihad. “But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones that are not convinced with the value of Australia staying within the Asian football family.
“The decision to include Australia was taken many years ago, before I became head of the AFC. The decision by the general assembly did not stipulate that this was an experiment that would be evaluated to see whether Australia would continue with the AFC. There are several Asian federations that see that it is necessary for Australia to leave the AFC, and for the AFC to cut all ties with Australia, but we can't just base any decision on opinions. Any decision about Australia's membership will have to come from the general assembly.”
Australia also boasts the current AFC Champions League holders in Western Sydney Wanderers, but Football Federation Australia (FFA) chief executive David Gallop disputed the notion that his country does not contribute fully to the region – pointing to economic and cultural benefits that he believes extend beyond football.
“We were extremely surprised to hear of these press reports from west Asia,” Gallop told the Fairfax Media news agency. “We are newcomers to AFC but our commitment to participate in competitions, membership of important AFC committees and general sharing of ideas and programs increases every year. We celebrate the diversity of the Asian region and this tournament has shown our contribution can go beyond football to create and foster social and political bridges between key trading partners in the region.”