CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in AMMAN —- When Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan became a FIFA vice-president back in early 2011 no-one abroad expected that, well over two years later, the Syrian crisis would have raged on to its present devastating extent.
His creation and development of an Asian Football Development Project was targeted at the social significance the game could play across the most extensive of FIFA’s six geographical regions.
But it has also been in place, with a fortunate coincidence, to provide its own input into supporting the agencies and neighbouring countries working to cope with the refugee crisis.
This has been done by harnessing the AFDP and calling for help from other international football bodies.
Prince Ali said: “We kicked in with the AFDP and we got some support from UEFA and from others. We did something at the [refugee] camps: the people who ran them said that their focus was on shelter, food and water and so on – just the basic necessities.
“But they didn’t realise that sport actually keeps kids busy. The kids had come in traumatised, sitting there doing nothing or just, basically, throwing rocks at people and so on.
“So we came in with Spirit of Soccer which is an non-governmental organisation which also teaches, through football, about landmine risk and things like that. We opened up pitches – the Koreans helped us – and we’ve actually taken the youth and put them into football so they have complete football programmes in the camp.
“It’s the first time that really they’ve seen that kind of approach to a refugee situation so instead of doing nothing and getting in trouble, they’re busy and active and they’re keeping comparatively happy.”
The wider role of the AFDP has involved bringing in organisations from across the football spectrum to talk about the grassroots game, share their visions and ideas and devise proposals which can work in an Asian context.
Prince Ali said: “Through AFDP we can get people around the table in a reasonably informal setting where we can really crunch out the work and come up with a suggestions platform. We had that with the headscarf issue, we did that with the AFC Champions League and we got the results and our suggestions were obviously taken up by AFC and implemented.
National associations’ role
“Social responsibility is a bit more challenging but we paved a roadmap and a 10-year plan so I’m happy to be doing that on a grassroots basis and hopefully we’ll have some achievements.”
PepsiCo is the project’s main backer with valuable support from UEFA, from national associations such as England, Germany and Norway plus clubs including the likes of Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Explaining their connection, Prince Ali said: “They have some great grassroots programmes already in place in Asia so they have experience in that field. Grassroots is not just for national association or confederation levels but club level as well. You need to bring all the elements together.
“Grassroots is all important. It’s the base of the game and we have to develop it. There’s been a huge lack in focus on grassroots by our [Asian] confederation up to now. There are national associations who have taken great strides in that respect but it has not been across the board.
“We have a huge youthful population in Asia and we need to capitalise on that and football is the way to go in terms of the health and wellbeing of our youth and also of our elders.”
The Asian confederation began to move forward again early this year after the two-year ‘freeze’ precipitated by the controversy surrounding former president Mohamed Bin Hammam. Sheikh Salman Ebrahim bin Khalifa of Bahrain was elected as new president in May and Prince Ali is eager to see the AFC’s work gather pace.
He said: “We’ve had a rocky time over the past couple of years but I’m optimistic that we will come out all the stronger for it and can get on with what is most important: the development of football on our continent.
“I don’t believe in slow processes, I don’t think we should take our time with anything. I would definitely be concerned both in AFC and in FIFA if there are people who might want to take their time because of their thoughts about future elections – I don’t think that should be at all acceptable . . . because we’re here to serve our fans and our players first and foremost.”
** AFDP’s most recent round table and recommendations: http://tinyurl.com/oe97lpw
Also see: http://spiritofsoccer.net