Sport

Socceroos can dominate results but FFA must change Asia off the field

Ange Postecoglou is trying his best to change perceptions. Can those who employ him achieve something even harder? To change Asia.

At Allianz Stadium on Tuesday night, Postecoglou will be expecting - not hoping - the Socceroos get the job done against Jordan and finish the first phase of World Cup qualifying at the top of their group. 

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But in the VIP lounge, there'll be one man desperately hoping for a different result. Prince Ali bin Hussein and Football Federation Australia may have become political allies, but for 90 minutes they'll be foes. Whatever the outcome, there'll be no hard feelings. The bigger question is what happens next.

Twice in the past 12 months, Prince Ali has stood for the FIFA presidency on a platform of transparency and reform. Both times he's had the vote of Australia. Both times he's lost. Global attention has focused on FIFA, but for Australia the game within a game has always been about Asia.

Prince Ali was not the official candidate of the Asian Football Confederation for the FIFA presidency. Bahrain's Sheikh Salman was. Let's see if there are repercussions. It will be interesting, for instance, to see how quickly the AFC approve Wellington Phoenix's continued participation in the A-League.

After joining the AFC in 2005, Frank Lowy's tactic was to tread carefully. Things changed, though, when the AFC effectively white-anted Australia's World Cup bid. Lowy felt strongly enough - maybe bitter enough - to break ranks. His son, Steven, has maintained the 'rage'. Supporting Prince Ali, and making it public, has not overly endeared Australia to the AFC establishment. The challenge for Lowy junior is not simply to manage the political fallout, but to achieve something far more meaningful, and courageous. 

To effect genuine change.

The AFC, as an entity, no longer makes sense. Too big, too unwieldy - riven by cultural, religious, economic and logistical divides. Everyone knows it. Nobody wants to do anything about it. But sooner or later it's a conversation which has to take place. Maybe that time is now.

Mover and shaker: Prince Ali bin Hussein.
Mover and shaker: Prince Ali bin Hussein. Photo: Salah Malkawi

If you're looking for a common denominator in the institutionalised corruption which almost brought FIFA to its knees, it's the confederation system. For decades, the six confederations around the world controlled the voting process which entrenched Sepp Blatter, and in exchange for that support a blind eye was turned to where the money ended up. If new FIFA president Gianni Infantino truly believes his own propaganda - that he has a mandate for change - then this is where his focus must lie.

Redrawing the confederation boundaries - producing smaller, more manageable, perhaps more culturally aligned, regional organisations - will not only help break up the old power structures, but should also deliver much better outcomes where it counts. On the ground.

Pressure-packed position: FFA chairman Steven Lowy.
Pressure-packed position: FFA chairman Steven Lowy. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Until recently, the power of confederations such as the AFC is that they've been able to guarantee a bloc of votes. No longer. What the last two FIFA presidential elections have shown is that more and more countries have been prepared to defy convention and take an independent view. Clearly, there's an appetite for fundamental reform. But the way FIFA works, this window of opportunity might not last long. So when Prince Ali and Steven Lowy get together this week, their challenge is to decide how hard they're willing to push the envelope.

Australia's strength since joining Asia has been evident on the field. Both men's and women's national teams - and at club level Western Sydney Wanderers - have been crowned champions of Asia. This matters, a lot. Yet in the corridors of power in Kuala Lumpur, Australia has largely been a bystander. As tough, and difficult, as it may be, it's now incumbent on the FFA to start having a much bigger say. On some levels - having openly supported Prince Ali - there's a lot less to lose.

The choice now for Lowy is a clear one. Does he want Australia to be a leader in Asia, or a follower? It's not about being loud, or aggressive. It's about being smart, and humble. If he can figure that out, everyone wins.

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