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The legacy of the 2015 Asian Cup

Where does Timmy boy stand in the history of Aussie footballers? (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Roar Guru
1st February, 2015
22

Basking in the after-glow of Australia’s Asian Cup glory, it is a good time to reflect on the legacy of the 2015 Asian Cup that has been so well hosted by Australia.

The enthusiastic crowds are a perfect signifier that Australian fans have warmly embraced Asia and not merely seen the Asian Football Confederation as an alternative path to World Cup qualification.

It is the perfect response to the AFC reaching out to Australia by awarding it to host the tournament merely nine years after being invited into the confederation.

Brisbane pitches aside this has been well above expectations and the event organisers announced that the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia has set new records for attendances, television audiences and social media engagement to make it the most watched.

Aggregate attendances totalled in the region of 650,000 people through the gates in the various match cities for an average or just under 19,000 per game.

Australia has fulfilled its duty in lifting the profile and prestige of the Asian Cup, and it will be interesting to hear the final impact on the Australian economy of staging the tournament – which was predicted to be $23 million ahead of the competition.

In terms of the larger narrative, coming on the back of the first Australian side in the guise of Western Sydney Wanderers having won an AFC Champions League trophy for the first time, it’s hard not to feel that this is the moment where the Australian football fraternity becomes an undeniably bona fide member of the AFC community.

There were intriguingly timed reports of a supposed “growing push” to evict Australia, which never had any actual legs, for what can only be assumed to be a form of cultural cringe at having a culturally European nation in an Asian Confederation.

It would be politically impossible for the member federations within the AFC to evict a country which has had a club side win the club championship, has hosted the regional senior men’s tournament, contested the final twice and have their national team win the showpiece event within 10 years of joining.

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Australia’s presence in the confederation has no doubt caused reverberations in the AFC and its traditional power structure.

Speaking of politics, looking at the Sunday newspapers’ mix of politics, Socceroos sporting success and Australian Open coverage there is something rather fitting about the Asian Cup victory occurring during a time of upheaval in the Australian political scene.

There are implications in terms of how politicans utilise sports as a medium of international relations and trade diplomacy.

Needless to say there is a perfect synchronicity between the re-orientation of the Australian economy from the US and Europe towards Asia, and Australia joining and engaging with the Asian Confederation from 2006 onwards, and being interlinked with the Asian football economy. The term synergy comes to mind.

For the Australian football fraternity this has had pros and cons, the pros are that we have a substantial domestic league going from strength to strength and that there is a pathway to a decent living for promising young athletes.

The cons are along the lines that player development is perceivably being adversely impacted by the slower rate of professional migration to Europe, with Asian leagues presenting themselves as a financially lucrative alternative.

Indeed it is quite interesting to notice a schism appearing where the hardcore fraternity are more focused on their clubs while the Socceroos are increasingly the domain general sports public, as hinted at by atmosphere issues. But that is a topic for another article.

It’s been quite intriguing to see that the act of not only hosting the major regional football tournament but hosting it so successfully will cause some reverberations on the Australian sporting landscape.

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This author has no interest in engaging in cross-sport debate, I hope the Cricket World Cup will be successfully hosted, as is the case of all Australian-hosted sporting events, but thematically speaking it will be fascinating to take a note and contrast the differences between the two tournaments.

In particular, the demographics of the crowds. For decades Australia has happily hosted crowds of British, Pacific, African and south Asian descent for cricket and rugby events, but in January we were able to add in the different flavour of sizeable contingents from China, Korea, Japan, the Middle East and Iran.

The sports business competition going forward will be fascinating. Winter has the AFL and the NRL famously competing, but the summer competition between football and cricket will be intriguing to observe in the decades to come.

Football has the FFA Cup and A-League, cricket has the Big Bash League, football has the English Premier League and La Liga, cricket has the Indian Premier league, football has the Asian Cup underpinned by Chinese TV audiences with a reasonable expectation of Australia to win, and cricket has the Cricket World Cup underpinned by Indian TV audiences with a reasonable expectation to win.

Needless to say the change in the nature of the Australian sporting landscape and the public relationship to it comes at an interesting time in terms of changes in the media industry.

The old power dynamics are changing as we move from a small number of analogue networks focused on audience sizes to a larger number of digital channels and providers focused on a business model based around subscription levels.

This is important because it drags the other football codes like AFL, NRL and rugby union into the fray as modern sports are primarily funded by broadcast revenue, and the dynamics of media consumption and determination of value are subsequently to change as well, and broadcast revenue for major sports with it.

Looking ahead, for football this author envisages that the World Cup will be seen as being similar to the Olympics and the Asian Cup as similar to the Commonwealth Games, both are understood, enjoyed and respected in slightly different ways.

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In this case Australians will be happy to see our team have a good go, punch above our weight at World Cups and hopefully make the knockout stages, while from this point there will be the weight of expectation and a different form of pressure in terms of Asian Cups. The Socceroos will need to be able to adapt to handling this pressure.

The Socceroos have added to their 2005 moment of coming out of the wilderness and the 2006 moment of announcing themselves on the world stage – 2015 is the year we became winners and moved beyond the initial ‘Golden Generation’.

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