Australia Must Win The Asian Cup To Save Face

Australia is currently very bad at soccer/football.

According to the recently released FIFA rankings, the Socceroos now sit outside the top 100 nations, in 102nd position – our lowest ranking ever.

We are so bad that countries which didn’t exist five years ago, (like Montenegro – 58th) are now better than us.

On top of this, countries that until recently did not have any discernible form of government and could have been classified as failed states (Rwanda – 90th; Haiti – 68th; Angola – 81st; and Sierra Leone – 84th), are also better than us.

To make matters worse, the best team in our geographical region (Japan) is ranked 53rd. This means if Socceroos win the Asian Cup in 2015 (which is unlikely on current form), we probably won’t even crack the top fifty.

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While rankings are largely irrelevant to what happens during the 90 minutes in which a match takes place, they are nonetheless instructive.

In particular, the poor state of Asian football shown in the rankings puts paid to any notion The Asian Century extends to sport.

The Asian Century is a phrase used by Kevin Rudd and any wanker trying to sound like a member of the global intelligentsia, which refers to the projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and culture.

So I said to Xi Jinping - "don't touch it if you can't afford it"
So I said to Xi Jinping – “don’t touch it if you can’t afford it”

In simpler terms, it means Asia – and China in particular – is pretty much going to run the show from now on.

This is probably true in an economic sense. Maybe even in a cultural sense, but on current form the Asian Century of dominance will not extend to the major sporting codes. That is, unless table tennis, badminton and weightlifting become globally popular sports within the next nine decades…

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The Gillard Government’s Asian Century white paper, released in October 2012, set out 25 objectives for Australia to leverage recent economic growth in Asia.

Perhaps a more important policy document for this current government would involve harnessing recent sporting growth in Asia and applying it to our own national sides.

John Howard’s tenure (1996-2007) coincided with arguably the greatest era of sport in Australian history. Needless to say, since his departure, things have been decidedly shaky.

If Prime Minister Abbott is truly interested in pressing the reset button and turning around his recent dip in popularity, there would be no greater place to start than a Royal Commission into our sporting decline.

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Australia is a part of Asia now, apparently, and we must cement our standing within this territory, if we are to thrive in both a sporting and non-sporting context.

Forget everything you learned in Kindergarten
Forget everything you learned in Kindergarten

At the moment, Australia views itself through a 20th Century sporting prism. Cricket, rugby league, rugby union and AFL are our staples – and while soccer is certainly growing thanks to a strengthened domestic league and Foxtel’s long-term strategy to acquire the rights to the English Premier League, it’s still not quite there.

The Asian Cup is of critical importance. We should be doing everything we can to win this competition; to flex our muscles in the region. It’s a wonderful opportunity to exercise soft power over our Asian neighbours.

Embracing Asia means embracing everything Asian; immersing ourselves in the orient – beating Asia at their own game. I’m not talking about eating a salmon & avocado sushi roll during your lunch break, but something bigger and longer term.

We should be looking to invest in not just soccer/football, but all the aforementioned sports that are popular in the region. Indeed, this should certainly be one of the focuses of a proposed Abbott Government white paper into the decline of sport in Australia.

Needed more sport references
Needed more sport references

If Australia wants to have a win-win cooperation with Asia, we must mature our mindset and embrace the bigger picture. We must look past the low-hanging fruit of NRL, rugby union and AFL, and embrace Asia and we must win the Asian Cup if we are going to be respected in the region.

The concept of ‘saving face’ guides daily life in Asia. Unfortunately, Australia’s recent performances have led to a dramatic loss of football face, with Japan now clearly the dominant soccer power in Asia.

We must win the Asian Cup to save face.

By Ben Shine and Dave Edwards

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