Wednesday 18 October 2023, 13:00

FIFA President calls for Asian Football Confederation to "unite the world" through football

  • Gianni Infantino tells AFC Extraordinary Congress it has “an important role” in global unity

  • Says expanded FIFA World Cup 2026™ is a “game-changer” for Asian nations

  • FIFA President urges AFC members to invest in women’s and youth football

FIFA President Gianni Infantino encouraged the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to set the example of unity in the football world in a speech he has given to the AFC Extraordinary Congress. Mr Infantino noted the “very divided and very aggressive” current global climate and asked that Asian football federations set the tone by using football’s unique power and influence to bring harmony to the world. “There is enough division already all over the world; we need occasions to bring people together, we need occasions to send messages of unity. We like to say that football unites the world. We like to say that football is becoming truly global and it is and we have a responsibility in this respect. You have a responsibility in this respect. You play an important role in this unity of the world, so I count on you in this respect,” said the FIFA President via video link to the AFC’s 47 member associations, who were meeting online. “I will be, of course, here with you, at your side, as always, and I'm looking forward to continue working with you in the years to come, to continue developing football with you in the years to come, to continue making football truly global together with you, and also together with you to really, really unite the world starting from Asia.”

Asia will often be at the heart of world football in the near future as a number of FIFA events are coming to the region. Indonesia is set to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup™ next month, while Saudi Arabia stages the FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ in Jeddah in December. The United Arab Emirates host the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2024™ early in the new year before Uzbekistan break ground as the first central Asian hosts of a FIFA tournament with the FIFA Futsal World Cup™. Thailand is also the setting for the next FIFA Congress, scheduled for Friday, 17 May 2024. Further down the line, following in the footsteps of Japan and South Korea in 2002 and Qatar in 2022, the FIFA World Cup™ could come to Asia for the third time in its history. In early October, the FIFA Council invited AFC and Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) member associations to bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2034™, which by following the principle of confederation rotation, should be staged by one or more member associations of those two confederations.

The FIFA President also urged AFC members to use the expanded FIFA World Cup 2026™, which will double the current number of Asian qualifiers to eight and potentially nine, as a springboard for investment in the game in the region. “The FIFA World Cup 2026™ with 48 teams, doubling the participation of Asian teams, is really a game changer for Asia because now, suddenly, the vast majority of you have a real, real chance to qualify for the biggest event on Earth – for the FIFA World Cup. “This means that you can start really planning; you can start investing; you can start developing yourself, your government, your cities, and growing, of course, the game,” said Mr Infantino, who – on the back of a hugely successful FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ co-hosted by AFC member Australia – stressed the need for investment in women’s football. “My appeal, again, to all of you is: invest in the women's game. It is definitely the future. We've seen it, we continue to see it. I want every country in the world to have a women's league, to have a women's national team. It is really, really fundamental because women represent 50% of the world population, also in Asia and all corners of the world.

“We need to foster women's football development as we do for the youth development with youth competitions, U-17s in particular are starting to be played on a yearly basis and with more teams, as of 2025, opening more doors and more opportunities to all of you to play a tournament, a FIFA World Cup at the global stage, and to grow football in your countries and we have all the tools to do that, not just to organise competitions but also to invest in training and development.” Mr Infantino pointed out the possibility for member associations to apply for FIFA assistance in the form of the Talent Development Scheme, led by FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development Arsène Wenger, which provides FIFA coaches and coaching methodology to help countries nurture young talents. He also noted the availability of much-increased FIFA Forward funds that national associations can use for football development projects with seven times more money available to each than before Mr. Infantino took office in 2016. At the start of his speech, the FIFA President reiterated his condolences to those who have lost their lives and are suffering due to the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the recent devastating earthquakes in Afghanistan.