Over 750 delegates from around 48 countries were in Doha for the Soccerex Asian Forum 2016, to share opinions and provide an in-depth review of football in Asia and around the world. Key industry decision makers from global football have come together to gain a unique insight and access to key development projects as Asia prepares to host an unprecedented number of major international tournaments culminating in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Day One of the Forum on Monday featured expert insights from Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General and Nasser Al Khater, Assistant Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, as well as Xavi, Stuart Pearce and footballing leaders from across the region. Discussions focussed on the progress of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which has just passed the half way stage of its preparations, the importance of hosting major footballing events for the first time in the region and how football has the power to change and enhance lives across the Middle East.
An emotional opening ceremony saw Tony Martin and Hassan Al Thawdi pay tribute to Soccerex Founder and CEO, Duncan Revie, who sadly passed away in September. Revie’s contribution to the football industry was commemorated with the inauguration of the Duncan Revie Award, which was presented by Hassan Al Thawadi to Richard Tims, Chairman of Sheffield FC, the world’s first football club.
The Forum then continued with the first panel session, which saw Nasser Al Khater address critics of the Qatar 2022 World Cup by saying: “We have been responding to our critics for a very long time and they are starting to come around to a Qatar World Cup. We are open and will continue to be open to constructive criticism. This is the first time it will be hosted in the region and in the Arab world and this region definitely deserves it. It is a responsibility we take very seriously. We have really begun extending to the local community and understanding what their concerns are. We want to show the world that anyone can host big sporting events.”
The topic of hosting major football events in the region for the first time was explored further later in the morning in a panel session titled, ‘Breaking New Ground’, moderated by Bashar Al Kadhi, H+K Strategies’ CEO of the MENA region. Kushal Das, General Secretary of the All India Football Federation, Mohammed Hazzam Al Dhaheri, General Secretary of the UAE Football Association and AFC Asian Cup Organising Committee, and Samar Nasser, CEO of the U17 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2016, discussed recent and upcoming football events held in their respective countries. Discussions addressed how transfer of knowledge and exchanging expertise are key to supporting new countries in their hosting of events, the challenges of filling large stadiums in major football tournaments and how FIFA are revising their specifications and requirements for hosting events to enable more developing countries to bid and host events.
Samar Nasser said: ‘FIFA should award events in the developing world. It provides an opportunity to develop football. They are revising their requirements to make it easier for more countries to bid, otherwise it becomes too expensive. Jordan is the third poorest country in the world in terms of water supplies. We were able to negotiate for 75% of our pitches to be on natural turf. The overall bill of the World Cup can be cut down if these requirements can be negotiated. So many countries are shying away from hosting events because too much money is being spent on major sporting events. We have to think about sustainability.”
The afternoon session kicked off with an in depth Q+A between Graham Hunter from Sky Sports and Xavi, before Xavi took part in a freestyle session with Sean Garnier, the double Football Freestyle World Champion. The interview looked at Xavi’s life in Doha where he currently plays for Al Sadd Sports Club and is an Ambassador for Generation Amazing, the programme run by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy aimed at using the power of football to inspire and accelerate development. Xavi spoke about the work he does with schoolchildren, refugees and workers across Qatar and the Middle East through Generation Amazing and how he has a personal connection with the project because he feels it is very important in life to help if you have the opportunity to do so.
Xavi is a strong believer in taking capabilities to different countries, sharing experiences and leaving a legacy from the World Cup. He is also very impressed with Qatar’s Aspire Academy, where he is involved as a coach for Qatar’s talented young footballers. Speaking about his experience, he said:
“Aspire Academy is an exceptional centre of development of players. It has state of the art infrastructure that you would not find in any other part of the world. I am very proud to be part of Aspire and work for Aspire. We are working very hard to develop different players. There are so many different efforts because they want to see it in their own country here. The object is to give this youth the opportunity to change the compass and the direction of football.”
The first day of the Forum concluded with Stuart Pearce participating in a Q+A with Ben Jacobs from BeIN Sport that focussed on the importance of academies in the development of football, both on a club level and on a national team level. Stuart Pearce discussed his own experience of coming up through football in a unique way that saw him play non-league football until he was spotted by Coventry City at the age of 21. He feels that his experience at Manchester City enabled him to see the whole spectrum of the club and the importance of academies. He said:
“I would prefer to have an academy player that I could upgrade than paying for a player. If they’re good enough, elevate them into the first team. If I put my hand on my heart, there are too many clubs that would rather pay money than give the opportunity to a young player to come through the club. It saves you going to the transfer market and paying multi-million pounds if you can give that opportunity to a young player to come through the club.”