The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) signed a memorandum of understanding on Saturday with football’s global governing body Fifa, to increase football-related social responsibility projects in the region.
Signed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Asean secretary-general Dato’ Lim Jock Hock at an Asean summit in Bangkok, the deal will see both parties invest in education, including Fifa’s Football for Schools programme, which uses the sport to promote physical education.
The two organisations said in a press release they would “join forces to leverage football as a catalyst for social development and healthy lifestyles in the region”. There will also be projects aimed at empowering women and marginalised communities, child safeguarding and boosting sporting integrity by building awareness of clean and fair play.
Asean comprises Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei.
Infantino said at the MoU’s signing ceremony, which was witnessed by leaders of all ten Asean countries: “After some decades of discussions between all the Asean countries, finally we found the one topic that unites everyone. It’s this, it’s football.
“It’s a true honour, it’s a true pleasure to be here, I’m very excited about the journey that we are starting today. It is our duty and our task to come here, to work together and to invest. To invest in football, in our youth, in your boys and girls, because, as we know, football is a school of life.”
The Fifa president promised to bring foreign investment and create jobs in Asean with the MoU, adding: “People in your country, businesses in your country, invest 10 times more in European football than football in Asean. We need of course to invest in Asean.”
Asean secretary-general Lim said: “Football, and sport in general, is a strategic means for bringing people together, promoting greater people-to-people connectivity, and making Asean even stronger as one community. As mandated by all ten Asean member states, it is my honour to announce Asean’s partnership with Fifa through the signing of this memorandum of understanding.”
Last month, it was announced that Thailand will lead a joint bid with four other Asean countries for the 2034 Fifa World Cup. The other four countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
The prospect of a joint Asean bid to host the World Cup dates back as far as 1996, but the rhetoric has intensified in recent months. In June, the Football Federation of Australia confirmed it was in talks with the Indonesia Football Association (PSSI) with a view to submitting a joint bid for the 2034 World Cup.
Infantino was positive about Asean’s interest in the tournament, telling media: “This is something that is worth pursuing for such a big part of the world. We have to work to invest in football, in club competitions, in a true Asean champions league.”
Asia has hosted the World Cup once, when Japan and South Korea were joint hosts in 2002, the only time the tournament was held in more than one country.
The other countries to have shown interest in staging the 2034 World Cup include China, Egypt, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.