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World Cup 2014
 
COMMENTARY

Asia can't stand still if it's to fulfil huge sporting potential

Published on Jul 13, 2014 11:31 AM
 
Chinese players at a match in Guangzhou in April. Asia needs to do much more to improve its standing in soccer. --PHOTO: AFP

Let's start by trying to be what we, as Asians, believe we are. Modest. So let's tell the Fifa vice-president from Asia to kindly shut up. Let's tell him that his suggestion that Asia deserves more World Cup slots sounds plain silly. Not to mention undeserving, considering Asia had 14 nations in the Top 100 in July 2010 and only 10 right now.

Let's be honest and say we're not even sure what it means to be Asian. In Australia, it means anyone who's Oriental. In football, Australia becomes an Asian team. It's kind of confusing. What's not is that we're all collectively average at this game.

We're world class at watching. Brilliant at buying football clubs. Not so gifted at playing for them. But let's concede that if we want our children to be that holy trinity of doctor-lawyer-engineer, then let's not complain about being average at this game.

Let's not blame it on height. Not when Lionel Messi is 169cm and Neymar resembles a stick insect. Anyway, Indians come in all sizes and yet a billion of them are still ranked world No. 154. That other billion bodies, China, were ranked No. 2 at the 2012 Olympics with 88 medals yet in football are No. 103.

This game only looks easy.

Let's be proud of Asia's growth in sport. The WTA Championships is coming to Singapore, the Presidents Cup is going to South Korea and the 2020 Olympics will be in Japan. Let's enjoy the world's applause for our organisation, their smiles at our deep pockets, their respect for our rise.

Let's also understand the world is getting better, not just admiring us. You stand still in sport, you're going backwards. Asia won 19 Olympic hockey medals in 13 Olympics from 1928-84, yet only two in seven Olympics since. We used to be The One, now our best ranking is No. 8.

Let's celebrate our purposeful progress, yet keep it in perspective. Li Na wins a Grand Slam title and it's terrific, but there are only three Asians in the women's top 50 and 38 Europeans. Kei Nishikori's rise is delightful yet there are only two Asians in the men's top 100, yet eight Europeans in just the Top 10. In men's golf, Asia has a Major winner this century yet Northern Ireland itself has four.

Let's be clear what all this is saying: Asia is giving powerful proof of its potential, but it hasn't been fully explored. We can run, hit and swim with the world, but not yet in numbers. A champion here, a champion there, but rarely a team of them.

We're not an oddity any more in world sport, yet in many sports beyond the Olympics we're not a force. Not like in women's golf where Korean women won a massive 16 Majors in the past 14 years. Now that's a revolution, a message, a dominance.

Let's not shirk from an unhappy truth: In Asia we crave football competition yet often get corruption and stories of match-fixing. You hear about it from China, in Indonesia, within Korea, around Singapore and from Qatar's World Cup bid. So if it's a sporting culture we crave, honest effort seems a fair place to start.

Let's not wring our hands but get them dirty. Greatness is vision, coaches, numbers, technique, science. It's not about size of bodies but how you train those bodies. Xavi looks like a Volkswagen Beetle but has a BMW engine.

It's about toughness in training, and places to train, and people to train you. It's about making sacrifices as a player, which means stubbing out your ciggies.

Let's distill this to a line: Asian sport doesn't have an inferiority complex now, it just needs a superior administrative style. People who work. Not officials who say "the future of football is Asia". Let's not boast. Not when our football is like us. Only modest.

rohitb@sph.com.sg

Background story

Plenty of work to do

Asia is giving powerful proof of its potential, but it hasn't been fully explored. We can run, hit and swim with the world, but not yet in numbers.

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