Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 19 News List

AFC to revamp 10 Asian soccer leagues

FACELIFT The Asian Football Confederation wants to make the leagues commercially more viable through increased transparency, and more competitive to boost support

AFP , SINGAPORE

Ten of Asia's top soccer leagues are set to be revamped as part of the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) drive to make them more commercially viable and attractive to fans.

The proposal is the brainchild of AFC chief Mohammed bin Hammam and is under the guidance of Japan Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi.

An initial study has been focusing on 22 countries and their current league and club infrastructures, with at least 10 to be relaunched between 2009-2012, some seeing more drastic changes than others.

"This project is very big and will take a lot of hard work and dedication. But I am putting this as top priority for the Japan Football Association to assist in making it a success," Kawabuchi said.

"We are seriously cooperating with the AFC to improve this special project which has been designed to raise the level of football in Asian clubs," he said.

The 10 leagues are Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, India, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The key focus is to make them more commercially viable through increased transparency in the way they do business, as well as more competitive to attract more fans.

Precise details are still being thrashed out.

The AFC is also considering a new format for the Champions League, Asia's premier club competition, from 2009.

"The overall motivation behind the program is the need and ambition to ensure that Asian football is managed professionally, within a commercial infrastructure, and is providing entertainment for the fans," Bin Hammam said.

"Today, football can be, and must be, managed as a business commodity while still protecting the integrity of the sport. So within the AFC region there are many opportunities to re-develop the national leagues, and also our AFC continental club competitions, to ensure we are competitive and progressive," he said.

The decision to revamp the leagues was sparked in part by the failure of Asian nations to do better at the World Cup in Germany, where only AFC newcomer Australia made it past the group stages.

At the time, Bin Hammam told reporters poor competition structures in Asia were directly to blame for the lackluster performances of South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Qatari, who is set to be re-elected to the AFC presidency in May, has long called for clubs and leagues to be managed more professionally, and said the success of the English Premier League was a shining example.

"There are different things to be learned from many leagues around the world," he said.

"We look mainly at some of the European leagues, and particularly the commercial success of the FA Premier League," Bin Hammam said.

"At a continental level, of course the UEFA Champions League. And within Asia, we have looked at our best practices. The J-League demonstrates many positive elements that other leagues around Asia can learn a lot from," he added.

Support for the changes has been widespread with investors keen to make more money and players wanting a better professional environment to hone their skills.

"We are creating a football industry where we can invite business people to invest in Asian clubs," Bin Hammam said.

"We believe that the future is in Asia, and there are big clubs comparable to those in Europe, and we need to ensure that they have the right structure in place to benefit from investment from within or outside Asia," he said.

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