Ten top football leagues, including India and China, are set to be revamped as part of the Asian Football Confederation’s drive to make them more commercially viable and attractive to fans.
The proposal is the brainchild of AFC chief Mohammed bin Hammam and will be carried out 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 and 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,” said Kawabuchi. “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.” In addition to India and China, the 10 leagues are Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“The overall motivation behind the programme is the need and ambition to ensure that Asian football is managed professionally, within a commercial infrastructure, and is providing entertainment for its fans,” said Bin Hammam. “Today, football can be, and must be, managed as a business commodity, while still protecting the integrity of the sport.”
AFC is also considering a new format for the Champions League, Asia’s premier club competition, from 2009.
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 said poor competition structures in Asia were directly to blame for the lacklustre performances of South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Qatari, set to be re-elected to the AFC presidency in May, has long called for clubs and leagues to be managed more professionally. He 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. At a continental level, of course the UEFA Champions League.”
“Within Asia, we have looked at our best practices. The J-League demonstrates many positive elements.”