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Will there be lemonade in this lemon?

Eddie McGuire is virtually unknown to South-East Asian audiences and rightly so. He’s club president of the Collingwood Football Club, a largely hated but fiercely supported team in the Australian Football League, more commonly known by its acronym, AFL, or its common nickname, Aussie Rules. Aerial pingpong to its critics. A sport with as much traction in Asia as sepak takraw has in Australia.

But McGuire is a name you should get used to hearing because it is McGuire who this week said the 2015 Asian Cup, to be held in Australia, could well be a “lemon”.

And, unfortunately, when McGuire speaks, most of Australia listens. His inoffensive, pally, ordinary everyman charm has taken him far.

McGuire is in fact so popular if (in my opinion) blindingly mediocre a talent he has, in addition to his Collingwood gig, hosted a bunch of TV and radio shows including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, run a network, recently stepped in as CEO of the Melbourne Stars Twenty20 side in the Big Bash League and even helmed coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics, most notable for this exchange in Vancouver with comedian Mick Molloy about the sexual orientation of American figure skater Johnny Weir.

“They don’t leave anything in the locker room those blokes,” said Molloy, apropos Weir’s competition garb.

“They don’t leave anything in the closet either, do they?” replied McGuire.

McGuire later went into damage control and took the unusual step of inviting Weir to stay at his home in Melbourne. It was breathtaking to watch a man backpedal so furiously.

But on these latest comments, made in an interview he conducted with FFA chairman Frank Lowy and said to be reflective of a wider view in sporting and political circles, McGuire owes no one an apology.

Let’s call a spade a spade: the Asian Cup has not been a hugely successful tournament in recent memory. Outside of matches featuring the big teams at the business end of proceedings, attendances have been for the most part poor. The 2007 event in South-East Asia was badly organised among four hosts. The 2011 event in Qatar overall was another fizzer.

Apologists for the Cup, like Australian broadcaster Les Murray, might point to nebulous “brand enrichment” (cough) and the big TV audiences in East Asia as measuring sticks for success but a tournament’s true impact should be judged by the enthusiasm, passion, fraternity and number of people passing through the turnstiles, not the viewing figures thousands of kilometres away. That’s why USA ’94, nearly 20 years on, is still remembered so fondly.

And therein lies the FFA’s threefold challenge. Hosting a tournament at the height of an Australian summer, competing with a bunch of other sports (not least international cricket and the Australian Open tennis) and convincing the country’s notoriously fickle sports fans to turn up to games not involving the home side. Even with games involving the Socceroos, local fans haven’t always turned up in droves.

Australia 2015 is going to be a serious ask of what Asian Cup organising committee CEO Michael Brown calls “passionate football supporters”.

The situation isn’t helped, either, by the fact Australia’s three biggest ethnic communities (who reliably turn out for big events involving their countries of origin) are non-Asian (British, Italian, Kiwi); of the Asian communities that number over 50,000 (Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino, Malaysian, Lebanese, Sri Lankan and Indonesian) only China looks guaranteed qualification; the sad reality of the FFA being so unprofessional of late they even managed to get the name wrong of the Joe Marston Medal in the A-League Grand Final; and the odd decision to bypass Melbourne altogether for the semi-finals and final (Melbourne is Australia’s greatest sporting city and Melbourne football fans the most committed).

Collective confidence in and goodwill for the organisers (led by Brown, a man with considerable experience only in AFL and cricket) is at an all-time low – even among diehard fans of the sport.

So is McGuire entitled to brand it a “lemon” this far out? He might want to lock it in. With the FFA in charge, anything could happen.

This column was originally published by ESPN STAR Sports. Please check for new columns by me every Thursday at www.espnstar.com. Love to see you there.

6 Comments

  1. Stephen
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I agree the snub of Melbourne by the FFA and organising committee borders on ridiculous. A decision made by Sydney-siders still trying to believe that people in Sydney have the same passion for sporting events that Melbourne people do. While I have no issue with Sydney as such, the reality is that bigger crowds have consistently been in Melbourne and to largely ignore the city and try to create some sort of home for football in Sydney is misguided and parochial. Surely a semi final in each of Melbourne and Brisbane would be better and save the Final for Sydney (due to the stadium size available at the time) and have a perfect playing arena on the day would make a lot of sense?
    But for the Asian Cup itself. Yes not a tournament that feels me and others with a great deal of passion despite having spent a great deal of time in Asia both in a professional and personal capacity, and having Asian relatives. But why? Why are people not passionate about an international continental cup? Is it because the Asian nations are not natural adversaries on the football field? is it the geography? The natural comparison for me is the African Cup of Nations. There is passion at nearly all matches despite having good as well as weaker teams like Asia. The Asian Cup has yet to have any tournament with passion the way the Africans have. For me while it doesn’t explain the general malaise I think the way to go for Asia in the near future would be to stop trying to manufacture a tournament that mirrors other confederations and recognise what the crowds have shown them. Look at the European Championship until recently it was 8 teams, why not go down that path? Still have qualification giving every one a go but a tournament that has only the host plus Australia, Japan, Korea Rep, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Iraq for example. Every game meaningful, no room for error. Surely until we have 20-25 very good nations cutting it back to 8 would raise teh stakes and increase interest.

  2. Rubens Camejo
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    McGuire, as much as I loath to admit, might be right in his fear, (or is it hope?), that the Asian Cup 2015 might turn out to be a lemon unless a couple off things happen.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that it might just turn out to be a lot better than the past two Asian Cup tournaments. I say this for several reasons, including some football reasons Mr McGuire might find hard to comprehend.

    If we go back to 2007 we can see why that tournament failed to ignite. These types of tournaments are about getting people from different countries together in one location for a party. The group stage of a tournament usually means party time and that is what people go to enjoy. I see that happening in 2015. 2007 was spread over 4 countries thousands of miles apart. WRONG!

    In 2011, (as it will be in 2022 for the World Cup), the location was all wrong as well. A small country where conditions and the atmosphere do not allow for big crowds to REALLY let their hair down is no place to hold a football tournament such as this or a World Cup. Can you imagine scantily clad Brazilian dancers doing their stuff in Qatar?

    These tournaments are not just about football. As contests, they are much like a basketball game; interesting in the beginning and middle stages but it’s not until the last five minutes that they get really enthralling.

    Success in 2015, like in all other tournaments, will depend on the atmosphere created by the supporters of the countries taking part as well as the local fans. Australia in summer is a perfect place to have a party of the kind usually taking place at these tournaments.

    A lot will depend on the promotional activities and the press coverage the tournament gets in the lead up to it. If Mr McGuire gets his way the press will be negative because there is none more antagonistically inclined towards football that him. The way he and some others do their utmost to undermine this sport beggars belief. That we give this despicable Australian the oxygen to undermine an Australian sport is an indictment on those that would otherwise support an Australian sporting endeavour, any sport.

    That said, he might well turn out to be right and the tournament might be a lemon. I think not scheduling a semi final in Melbourne is a mistake. There will be thousands of visitors from Europe in the city and most of them would have taken time out from their tennis and taken an interest in the football. They would have taken reports back to their home countries about Asian Football, which can be of a very good standard, especially that late in the tournament.

    Here’s hoping AFL continues to prosper but Collingwood suffers the agony of many losing grand finals to come. (Only Joking, really)

  3. Jesse Fink
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    A large part of the problem, I believe, is that “Asia” is whatever you make it to be. I have been at AFC Awards in Kuala Lumpur and been struck by the bizarreness of it all: North Koreans, Saudis, Australians, Japanese, Sri Lankans, Uzbekis all thrown together under the cloak of being “Asian” yet being utterly paralysed by their differences. I agree the structure of the Asian Cup needs reviewing. The “free passes” India has been getting into the tournament are an outrage.

  4. Rubens Camejo
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what effect ‘super-powers’ like China and India, (population-wise), would have on our game but in the interest of having a continental football scene to rival that of South America, Europe and even Africa I think a country like India merits all the help they can get to awaken the game there.

    I think that when my 14 year old boy gets to my age, (56), we might be talking about the best players in the world making heir way to Asia before they are past their peak. That can only be a positive thing for the game and our players.

    Many more of our players would have the opportunity to earn big money in Asia and if the game improves as it has done in Japan and South Korea over the past 30 years then the quality of football will be something Australian football fans will enjoy.

    As for the differences; yes, they must be evidently stark when the different countries or their representatives get together, however, those differences exist in Europe, perhaps not as pronouced but an Albanian player in England would be like a fish out of water.

    At least in India players from a lot more places would feel more at ease than those that currently go to Japan, South Korea and especially China. They do speak English there and most players wishing to play outside of their countries do make an efort to communicate in English.

    That being the case, India could be a sleeping giant, no gurantees, mind you, but if they ware to rouse and climb the football ladder they could become a financial gold mine for the game.

  5. Pomade
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Bitter lemon.

  6. Andrew
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Living in Melbourne Jesse, I can tell you Eddie will not miss an opportunity to lay the boots into world football, wheteher its via his newspaper columns or running promos for his radio show with cheap comments about ‘sockah violence’ when the ad has nothing to do with world football at all. Admittedly, I no longer listen/watch him(caught the ad for the Lowy interview via the HAL website), nor do i listen to Neil Mitchell or Patrick Smith for those very same reasons. The irony is, if the AFL had an opportunity to ‘market’ its code via a similiar tournament via tax payer funded dollars, it would, and the aforementioned ‘journalists’ would certainly not be calling it a potential lemon. Eddie’s code gets more tax payer funded dollars then any other, yet i wouldnt have thought that after a 1.25billion dollat tv deal that they would need it. the combined costs of the perth and adelaide redevelopments are in excess of 1.5billion, whilst they are also ‘given’ Etihad stadium(460M cost) for FREE very shortly! if his comments came from somebody who criticized ALL sports equally for what I would argue as excessive funds from taxpayers, instead of going to our hospitals, schools and pension funds, then fair enough. But from Eddie, i don’t think so. Hyprocritical to say the least. By the way, just like at South Africa where the AFL exploited the cup by trying to promote it’s code, i’ll bet they will try to do the same in 2015(lemon or no lemon). Eddie and his mates are involved in 2 of Asutralia deep seeded culturallly accepteded sports, that is AFL and Cricket. Both have a history of taking pot shots at world football for over a century(it was cricket Australia who threatened to boycott the Ashes in the early 1900′s unless a similiar mooted tournament b/w England and Aus via soccer was scrapped(and you could probably list a dozen others). If you were to replace Buckley as CEO right now and take over the current FFA tv rights negotiations, would you pull the Asian Cup of your list as a potential selling point to the various tv networks?