Sydney is the home of football in Australia
In a somewhat surprising announcement from the FFA, there will be no 2015 Asian Cup Championship deciders played in Melbourne, the self-proclaimed home of Australian sport.
Michael Brown is the Chief Executive Officer of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the AFC Asian Cup 2015 and is the former General Manager of Cricket at Cricket Australia and spent six years as CEO of the Hawthorn AFL club.
He has declared that the scale and scope of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup makes it one of the world’s biggest and most important sporting events.
More than half the world’s population is based in Asia and the worldwide interest, tourism and revenue that the tournament will generate will surpass anything seen in this country since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The Asian Cup is the third most watched tournament in the world and the 2015 event, with ever growing interest in football in Asia’s developing nations, will be even bigger than the 2011 Asian Cup tournament held in Qatar.
Sydney has been awarded the contract to host the Asian Cup 2015 semi finals, playoff for third place and the final.
Brown says Australia’s biggest city will be the venue for the showpiece matches: “The two semi-finals, the match for third place and the final will take place in Sydney.”
Why then is Melbourne playing such a lesser role in the tournament and no finals games being staged there?
Is this FFA payback for Melbourne’s apparent non support for Australia’s 2022 FIFA World Cup bid because of AFL pressure.
Is Melbourne really the home of Australian sport or just the home of AFL?
Frank Lowy says: “This tournament is the pinnacle for the 46 nations of the AFC who represent more than half the world’s population and some of the most passionate fans found anywhere. We are determined to stage a world-class event that will make Australia and Asia proud.”
The region’s biggest footballing nations Japan, Australia, Korea Republic, Korea DPR and the winner of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup will qualify for the tournament automatically. The other 41 countries will have to play off for the remaining 11 Asian Cup places in the qualification tournament that commences next March.
None the less, Michael Brown admits there are still many challenges ahead to make the tournament the success it needs to be for the AFC and Australian football, especially given some of the comments and negative press from some of his AFL centric former colleagues back in Melbourne.
“Eddie McGuire reckons that the Asian Cup might be a ‘lemon’. Eddie’s a passionate Melburnian and Collingwood president. I have spoken to him and written to Melbourne Major Events to make sure that they understand the contribution governments are making and the value of the tournament to Australia as a whole.”
Brown added: “The A-League is only in its infancy but it’s going from strength to strength.”
“People easily forget that the AFL competition nearly collapsed in 1985 because it was broke and had to go and get funding from all levels of government and start up an independent commission to rebuild itself.
“The NRL had its Super League battle and Cricket Australia had to go through the pain and loss of the World Series of Cricket rebellion in the 1970s and then regenerate and reinvigorate itself, so every major Australian sport has been there.”
“So it is wrong to suggest that this Asian Cup will be a lemon … if anything it shows the size of the opportunity for us to educate people like Eddie about the merits of one of the top three football tournaments in the world.
“We have not had an event of this size since the 2000 Olympics. Forty-six nations representing more than half of the world’s population are competing for this event.”
According to consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers who were commissioned by the FFA to cost the event, the Asian Cup 2015 has the potential to add $230 million to Australia’s gross domestic product – 45,000 overseas visitors, who would spend an average of $5000 each.
On the other hand, governments will subsidise the Cup to a maximum of $61 million – half from the Federal Government with the balance shared among Queensland, NSW, the ACT and Victorian taxpayers.
Victorian and former Socceroo and Melbourne Victory captain Kevin Muscat is disappointed his city will not play a more prominent part.
“The tournament is the second-most important for Australian football after the World Cup and hosting it is consolation after losing the 2022 bid,” said Muscat.
“If we cast our mind back to when we qualified for the World Cup for the first time in a number of years in Germany and the impact it had on young kids and football in this country, this will be huge,” he told reporters.
Sydney staged that remarkable World Cup decider victory over Uruguay in 2005 that got Australia to Germany 2006 and given the new West Sydney Wanderers A-League team and the enormous numbers of people who play football here, the 2015 Asian Cup finals will re-establish Sydney as the home of Australian football.