In little less than a month, the Asian Football Confederation will be electing (or re-electing) the most qualified of all individuals to lead the footballing efforts across Asia.
One of the three personalities hoping to dethrone reigning AFC President Shaikh Salman is H.E. Mohammad Khalfan Al-Romaithi, Chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sport.
Addressing a select group of individuals at the splendid Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, he released his manifesto affirming that “Asia deserves better” and placing emphasis on ‘being fair across investment, participation and independence – all under the manifesto slogan of ‘Making Football Fair’.
Buoyed with confidence, from successfully operating one of the region’s prized events – the Asian Cup, H.E. Al-Romaithi will not shy away from tacking issues up front as explained in an exclusive interview with Goal prior to the conclusion of the tournament in February.
“I feel that I am very well equipped, I have a very good team with me and back all of that with my experience, so I think I am a very strong candidate,” described Al-Romaithi in that interview.
That very confidence appeared as Al-Romaithi opened the session with a brief introductory video of himself which talked to his past as a child, the values and ethical foundation based upon his upbringing and his target as an Asian Football President hoping to unlock the power of the beautiful game, making it fair for the many and not just the few.
“As a leader I will instill honesty, transparency, but I also have the positive values from my family and the leaders of this country during my 31 years of experience. I am loved among my people in the UAE and they know the good quality I carry which will remain with me until the end of my life,” said Mr. Al-Romaithi.
And that he has the qualities of what it takes to lead one of the top governing bodies in Asian sports.
“Integrity, transparency, fairness and respect are the fundamental principles by which I live my life and they will become the bedrock of my presidency,” explained Al-Romaithi.
The seasoned veteran stated that “Football in Asia is failing” as he remained resolute in the years of inadequate investment and poor governance, which has stalled the development of the world’s most popular game in the world’s biggest football continent.
“We are the weakest link in football around the world. All sports across Asia are improving but seems like football is the only sport that is not (from a holistic perspective). We need to place a lot of emphasis in the game to do so. Especially in those countries that are not considered football countries which are away from the ten – twelve that currently tend to dominate,” said Mr. Al-Romaithi.
His manifesto, under the guidance of experts, focuses on AFC becoming the most “inclusive and independent” football confederation in the world, hoping to make Asia and its respective Member Association’s truly independent, free from pressure, free to make decisions and free to vote for the best candidate within with the fairest policies.
Yet, he was very candid on the importance he placed in the governance of the Asian body as he clearly states “if I don’t perform between 6 months to one year, if I don’t achieve what I said in the manifesto, I will convene and ask Congress to step down from my post.”
Among some of his pledges were to create a $320 million ‘Fair Fund’ for the development of football across Asia, to introduce a financial governance index to ensure all grants are means tested, to invest a minimum of $2 million every year in every Member Association, to invest a minimum of $1 million every year in each regional federation (a total of $20 million per term) to support regional development, competitions and administration, to ensure that every Member Association national team plays a minimum of five matches per year and to make football fair for Asia’s youths by establishing annual competitions for all age groups from U14-U23.
Al-Romaithi is relying on his ability to build relationships to achieve some of his pledges. Most importantly, in the act of securing funds from sponsors and private sectors as he “guaranteed” financial support to pour in if he won the elections.
Aref Hamad Al-Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), also echoed the strategy taken by Al-Romaithi to fund development of the game.
“We need to have sponsors coming into Asia and prefer Asia rather than preferring any other federation. If you go and watch the World Cup, you will see most of the sponsors are from Asia so why don’t they invest within Asia? Because there is no trust in the development and this is only manifesto which has a very clear program,” said Mr. Al-Awani.
He also placed emphasis on the women’s game where in for the first time, a certain percentage (25%) within the funds allocated to each Member Association would have to be dedicated to the development of women’s football. This, along with promises to expand the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, establish an AFC Women’s Champions League and introduce annual AFC youth competitions, highlights Al Romaithi’s commitment to growing the game for all.
“Women’s football is very important as they have the passion for the game, they love football. Whatever we do for the boys, we will do for the girls at the grassroots level,” said Mr. Al-Romaithi describing the positive effects of nations like China, Japan and Iran in continental and international tournaments however there was significant opportunity to improve others.
The man who represented Al Ain FC, the UAE’s most decorated football club, at youth level also went on to address the possibility of the next edition of the World Cup expanding to 48 nations and the ongoing relationship with Qatar while congratulating them on their recent success as Asian Cup champions.
“Kuwait and Oman can do it (host games for the World Cup) and if other countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAW will be willing to host if the crisis resolved, however, regardless of who is co-hosting or not, in the end it will always be Qatar’s World Cup,” explained Mr. Al-Romaithi who would personally travel to Qatar to discuss the matter.
As the upcoming weeks are crucial in trying to convince individual Member Association’s, Al-Romaithi believes he has paved the ground and hopes that the Member Association’s select the best candidate based on their future and not on the past.
“Unfortunately we were given only a month but we stuck to the rules. I have to show myself as a serious candidate. I urge them (Member Association’s) to take the fear out and vote for the right person who will take them forward.”
The ideal candidate will be voted upon for the AFC President during the 29th AFC Congress which is scheduled to take place at the Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 6, 2019. Regardless, he won’t be disappointed with the efforts put into this campaign.
“I promised my team, we will have no regrets after we are finished with all this,” Mr. Al-Romaithi confidently exerted.
And when asked the first course of action he will take if he wins:
“Make three calls – Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed who has been ever supportive, my mother and my father.”
Al-Romaithi's complete manifesto can be found here .