LINUS LINDAHL and SANDRA AIGNER / AIPS Young Reporters* in Abu Dhabi
—- FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke was in Abu Dhabi to see the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 kick off with a spectacular six-goal show from Brazil against Slovakia and an upset defeat for the hosts against Honduras.
The initial drama, both in the Bin Zayed Stadium and in two simultaneous matches up in Ras Al-Kaimah, underlined all his positive expectations for the tournament which he outlined in an exclusive interview with AIPS Young Reporters.
Valcke was full of praise for Asian football in general as well as for the local UAE hosts in particular ahead of an event with added fascination since neighbouring Qatar will host the senior World Cup in 2022.
What do you expect from this tournament?
Firstly it’s not the first time UAE has organised a FIFA tournament which means we know how good they are. A few years ago we were here at the same stadium for the Club World Cup and it went very well. So we know it’s a country where the organisation is at a very high level. It’s easy to work with them, they are delivering what they have signed to do in the hosting agreements with FIFA.
So I would say it’s a country where you can expect a really nice tournament. They are supporting the tournament, they are promoting the tournament and they will do their best to make sure they are on top of everything. Also, which is not always easy with the Under-17s, that we will have people in the stadiums.
In which ways do you think this will be an outstanding tournament?
Firstly because the conditions for all these games are the best possible for these U-17s. I’m not sure that all of them will go on to play in the U-20s. But, potentially, a number of these players will play at the World Cup maybe in 2022, so at least they will be used to the heat (!). Again, the people here are delivering an organisation which is up to the level of a high-level competition. There are facilities here of the highest standard.
The UAE is hosting this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup and in 2022 Qatar will host the World Cup. Is the centre of football moving to Asia?
I don’t know if football is moving to Asia [but] I do know that Asia is moving to football. You have more and more high level football played in Asia. I do not have to talk about Japan or South Korea or even with North Korea with women’s football. Then there is also Iran, which is a very strong [football] country and who qualified for the World Cup.
It’s less about saying: ‘It’s time to develop football in Asia and that’s why the World Cup was awarded to Qatar;’ it’s more about recognition that you have millions of people living in this part of the world and they are crazy about football and they are playing football and that’s why the World Cup moved to Qatar.
That was the decision and explanation which was given by the executive committee.
Also we have among the top six FIFA partners – which are companies paying let’s say 150m to the World Cup – three of them from Asia. So it shows that 50 per cent of our top partners come from this part of the world.
Asia is big, it’s a huge continent mixing a lot of culture, a lot of religion, a lot of different people so it’s not an easy confederation. But again it’s a strong confederation and for the future I would say – if I had to bet – that I would definitely [look to] Asia and the United States.
South America has been up and down but they are strong in football. Africa is difficult because they have so much work to do in Africa to make sure that football will remain and will be stronger in the future.
But the next two up-and-coming football regions, I would say, are Asia as a continent and USA as a country.
How do you view the significance of this tournament for world football?
I think it’s a very important tournament for all these kids playing football here in the UAE because it will be well organised and for them that is the best way to express the quality of their football. So it’s less about world football and more for these kids.
If you don’t encourage the young players you will never have strong national teams. Look to the countries which are strong in their under-17-teams: Spain are one example as are France who just won the Under-20s and have always had a culture of youth football. The number of countries which have a culture of youth football are countries you always see at the top 10 at the World Cup.
Which teams are you most curious to watch in this tournament?
There is not one team, I’m always interested by all the teams. I don’t support any team. That’s part of my job description (Except PSG, which is my team so I’m sorry I have to say I’m supporting PSG. Not because it’s owned by Qatar but because it’s my team from my home city and, thanks to Qatar because they put so much money in, we have started to be a really good team).
Otherwise I’m always interested in the teams you are not used to seeing . . . because it’s a result of all the work we are doing with the confederations. It’s not just about FIFA.
How do you think the heat will impact on the players?
Honestly speaking . . . it’s hot! For people who are coming here now, the discussion about Qatar 2022 is a real one – and we are in October. That’s why my feeling is that definitely the best period is when the heat comes down.
So then we are talking about the middle of November, December, and early January. December is the month when you can play in the best conditions in the region.
When you have players which are under-17 it’s the responsibility of the referee to make sure that if it’s too hot he stops the game and gives the players time to drink water and rest for a few minutes or seconds.
It’s difficult for some people without running kilometres and these kids will run kilometres. So five o’clock seems to me really the earliest time for them to play in good conditions and not suffer too much from the heat.
** AIPS, the international association of sports journalists, is conducting a Young Reporters course in the UAE with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA. This article appeared first at www.AIPSmedia.com