Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 January 2020

Football can transform lives and nations, says Asian Cup committee head

Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, head of the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee, reflects on the success of the UAE-hosted tournament

As the tournament moves into its final stages, it is clear we have reached a pivotal point in the journey of the AFC Asian Cup, and football in Asia.

One might say we’re entering the last phase of the game and the stakes have never been higher.

Over the past few days, I have reflected on a tournament that has already excited and charmed us here in the UAE, across Asia and well beyond.

As I have travelled across the country attending many games, I’ve already become immersed in the joy of the fans, the volunteers, and administrators too. The real winners of this tournament are most definitely the fans –victorious or not, they love the game. And I include myself as one of those fans.

Football is the great leveller - from the CEO to the groundsman - everyone has an opinion about the game and everyone’s opinion is equally valid.

there is only one sport that truly brings us together, and that sport is football.

Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi, head of the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee

As chairman of the General Authority of Sports in UAE, I’ve been lucky to have been part of the growth of sports across our country. But there is only one sport that truly brings us together, and that sport is football.

We have come a long way since we first held the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE – and I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from the 1996 Local Organising Committee for what they achieved all those years ago. Not only did they put on a truly memorable tournament, but they were able to leave a lasting legacy that has undoubtedly laid the foundations for this year’s event.

It seems only yesterday that we were bringing Asia together in the Emirates. Sixteen teams competed in 1996 – and now it’s grown to twenty-four national teams.

These teams include the Philippines, Kyrgyz Republic and Yemen, all of who have competed in this great tournament for the first time. We have been honoured by the participation of these teams, whose presence has greatly enhanced the tournament.

At the AFC Asian Cup, we follow in the footsteps of the great Fifa World Cup, which inspired us here in our preparations. I would therefore like to thank Fifa President Gianni Infantino, Fifa, and Russia for staging such a spectacular football tournament for the world.

The Fifa president has supported our efforts here for the AFC Asian Cup, and is doing a very good job cleaning up and bringing the federation to a place where it is independent, transparent and functional.

Strong and fair leadership is critical to the sustained growth of football. To see true leadership in action we need to only look at our founding father, Sheikh Zayed - the inspirational driving force behind the formation of the UAE. His determination, his hard work, his generous spirit and the way in which he devoted his life to serve his people and create a better world, has been a role model for me – and may I suggest a role model for us all.

I would like to thank our wonderful volunteers too. Without our volunteers, this tournament, and indeed our football clubs, could not survive. The volunteers, like the referees, coaches, team officials, and Member Associations and Federations are the unsung heroes of football and of this tournament.

Everywhere I go, I see newspapers opened at the football pages, and people gathered around screens watching the tournament. I would therefore like to acknowledge the important role that the media is playing at this tournament and in supporting football across Asia.

Looking ahead, I believe that football’s future is one that holds great potential for every stakeholder in the game. A future that is a consequence of what we will do together, building on the success of the AFC Asian Cup.

While we can all share the joys that this great game brings, we should also be reminded of the responsibilities we must shoulder, in order to protect and safeguard the future of football. It is a responsibility to nations that need more resources to develop the game in their countries.

A responsibility to women and to people of all ability levels, backgrounds and geographic zones so that the game can prosper through inclusivity and no one is left behind. And finally, it is a responsibility to the next generation, so that they can inherit a beautiful game, founded on integrity, fairness and instilled with truth.

There is no denying football has the power to reach and transform lives and nations – and that power must be channelled fairly, and in the interests of the many and not just the few.

And so, as the whistle blows for the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, let us look forward to the excitement of the competition ahead.

Major General Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi is head of the Asian Cup Local Organising Committee, chairman of the General Authority for Sports and former head of Abu Dhabi Police.

Updated: January 29, 2019 02:56 PM