White paper misses the point

Football faces some unique challenges in Australia and one of the biggest is convincing people who have had no previous contact with the sport of its global significance.

Football faces some unique challenges in Australia and one of the biggest is convincing people who have had no previous contact with the sport of its global significance.

Often the most dismissive of football are those that have never been to a game and fail to understand its cultural importance around the world.

Perhaps that-s why the federal government made next to no mention of football when it released its white paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” last week.

It-s not as if the government wasn-t made aware of Australia-s engagement with Asia through football.

In March 2011, Football Federation Australia submitted an extensive 30-page document that outlined the role football has played in building links to Asia since Australia-s admission into the Asian Football Confederation.

Despite the lengthy submission, football-s role in bridging the gap between Asia and Australia was reduced by the federal government to a mere 228 words in a 320-page document.

Incredibly, the Cricket World Cup earned a mention before football-s Asian Cup as a “major sporting event” set to take place on our shores which will facilitate Australian engagement with Asia.

Politicians are regularly accused of employing empty rhetoric, but the lack of understanding of football-s cultural significance in Asia is glaring.

Surely it stems from ignorance. How many of the authors of the white paper have ever attended a football game in Asia?

Not many, I-m willing to guess.

Recently I spoke to Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglou about the possibility of him one day coaching overseas and whether such employment might include a stint in the J. League - a competition I feel is still vastly underrated in Australia.

“To be fair to everyone, I-ve sort of been fortunate because when I was coaching the (under-20) national team I travelled the world,” was Postecoglou-s candid response.

“Because you-ve lived in Japan and you-ve understood the culture and you realise how hard they-ve worked and what they-ve done, you-ve got an appreciation for it,” he added.

“Because I-ve travelled the world I-ve got an appreciation as to where we sit as a nation and how many more endless possibilities there are beyond our borders.”

Such insight is revealing. It suggests those that have experienced football overseas tend to understand how seriously other nations treat it.

One of FFA-s goals going forward should be to convince our politicians of that, because for all the talk of connecting with Asia, the federal government has just overlooked a key relationship-builder.

Recently as part of a Masters degree I wrote a 10,000-word research project entitled; “An exploration of Asian football coverage in the Australian media landscape.”

In it I argued Australians will always struggle to understand the nuances of football in countries like Indonesia, China and Japan - indeed all of Asia - until it produces more journalists with first-hand knowledge of the Asian game.

For example, there-s a notion that "Asians" will turn up en masse to watch the Asian Cup in 2015.

Yet there-s rarely an acknowledgement that Chinese fans won-t pay to watch Japan play, or that of the thousands of Asian students already in Australia, many come from non-football backgrounds and have little interest in the game.

It-s only when we pursue a deeper understanding of Asian cultures that we can start building significant relationships through football.

And it-s incumbent upon the federal government to recognise that. If Australia is genuinely to take part in the "Asian Century", then football is in a unique position to act as a conduit between cultures.

Part of the sport-s charm is that it breaks down so many cultural and linguistic barriers to unite fans across Asia and the rest of the world.

It-s a shame the government has failed to recognise that because ignoring football-s role in Asia implies they-re not serious about engaging with the continent at all.

The views in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.