AFC's Miguel David Says Women are the Driving Force of Futsal in Asia, Calls for FIFA Ranking System, Academies
By Tim Sheldon
MANILA (11-4-09) Development of Futsal in the Asian Football Confederation "has been great, and the potential is there," said Miguel David, who has been coordinating Futsal for the Confederation and is stepping down after four years at the post.
David sees Women's Futsal is a primary ingredient in the change, and he said the AFC would need to see creation of better player development systems throughout the region. He also called for FIFA world rankings for men's and women's Futsal.
"In Asia, the main driving force of Futsal has been especially Women 's Futsal," he said. "It's booming in the Middle East, where full field football is inapplicable to most Middle Eastern Women. There is quite a sizeable potential. The strength of Futsal in Asia will come from women in the next five to 10 years."
(Photo: Miguel David.)
Futsal in general has grown rapidly in Asia for several reasons. Major cities have limited space available for full-field soccer. Converted warehouses and Futsal halls are scattered all over Asia because outdoor soccer space is limited. The Pacific Rim often have adverse weather conditions, and people tend to go indoors.
Women like playing in a safe environment and "don't like the idea of tackling in mud," David said. "Our fields are not like the fields in North America, where they're all manicured and you have sunshine. Here it's really adverse weather conditions, so there is a following and a culture indoors."
Weather and space aside, women find it relatively easy to assemble in groups of five to 10 for Futsal, and the game becomes very easy to organize and play.
There also is some good women's Futsal being played in the "Stans" region of the former Soviet Union. With Uzbekistan leading the way, these countries developed a good culture for Futsal because of the support of the former Soviet Union. Uzbekistan has developed an aggressive women's Futsal program, David said.
In the Middle East, in countries like Qatar and Iran where women have to be covered up, Futsal "fits perfectly for them, " he said.
There are six countries playing Women's Futsal in the Middle East right now, "and that's a huge number, because if you compare that to the number who are playing Women's outdoor football, that's very significant," David said.
In Australia, they have quite a good youth program and women's program, as well, and in Japan they have the trendy "pop culture" which easily incorporates Futsal..
In China, "one big step for women's Futsal in Asia is a very good friend of mine, Miss Lily Xue Li, who has done a lot of great work for Futsal. She is the first ever women's member of the FIFA Football Committee.
(Photo: Iran Women's Team in action.)
"The woman who started Futsal in Iran, Mrs. Sepanji, she's a wonderful human being and in fact when they fielded their first national team they give me the full set of the gear. Everything from the head scarf to the long sleeve jersey to the socks to the long pants. I have it as a souvenir, and I'm going to frame the entire thing, because it was the first ever international tournament."
The AFC is one of the six Confederations making up
FIFA and is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It has 46 member associations,
including India and China and represents more than half of the worlds population.
Its current President is Mohamed Bin Hammam, of Qatar.
Comparing approaches to Futsal among the six different confederations of FIFA, David said the AFC has a unique strength, and that is basically the acceptance of Futsal among the member associations.
"Around the world right now, if you want to do Futsal, you have to do it through the football associations, which can cause a lot of trouble, especially in some of the older countries like Eastern Europe and South America."
The difference in Asia, he said, is that practically all of the associations embrace Futsal.
"Right now we have 46 members and we have 10-12 associations playing Futsal really seriously and another 10 playing not quite as seriously but recognizing the Futsal. Another six to eight associations play Futsal but it has not gotten into the mainstream yet. Their activities are recognized locally."
David said that in his opinion the only confederations that are actively involved in Futsal at the association level are UEFA and the AFC, "and recently Oceania now that Scott Gilligan has taken over and initiated the Oceania Futsal program."
A major difference between the AFC and UEFA is that UEFA "has Champions League money and they can plow everything into development. And they have the Club Championship and the U21s."
While men's Futsal is highly organized in UEFA, Women's Futsal is "doubtful" in UEFA, David said. "That's why they pursued the U21s first, because they're doing well in football. They have all of the fields. So they haven't really gotten into Futsal yet. In fact, they went ahead with beach soccer first."
The biggest advantage for UEFA in previous years has been convenient air travel. "These things have only started to surface in Asia in the last two or three years."
Right now the continental competition for women is the Asian Indoor Games, which are currently underway under the auspices of the Olympic Council of Asia. David said the AFC was forecasting 12 teams for the games, but the current economic crunch reduced the number.
"If everything was like 2007 in Macao, that was the biggest international tournament in the world. If organized properly they would have had 32-36 international A teams at the current Games in Vietnam. But because of financial conditions they could only raise 20 teams."
David viewed South America as being "a bit difficult" when viewed from the confederation level. "They have the numbers and the passion, and they've had regular activities for Futsal for a long time."
Africa has not moved much in the direction of Futsal. "Libyan and Egyptian money but other countries have not really embraced Futsal yet, David said. "In South Africa something is happening. My impression in Africa is that if you don't present a commercial model it doesn't work out. In Northern Africa, where they have the funding from the oil."
David said he was hesitant to comment on Futsal development in North America, but then observed, "All I can say is what all of the other continents have been saying. If anyone has the perfect platform for Futsal, especially the commercial model, it's North America. In Asia we have a lot of participation, but in terms of the equality of money and distribution of income levels, and the commercialization of leagues, it's so uneven. That's the difficulty in Asia."
Looking at some of the leading Futsal countries in the AFC, David cited Thailand, Japan Australia, Uzbekistan, China and Iran.
Thailand is a very strong in Futsal due mainly to the determination of a wealthy benefactor, Adisak Benjasiriwan. They have had a successful program for 10 years and now have a successful commercial league. "The reason why it happened is mainly because of this man, David said. "Because he kept the vision going. He was able to weather the politics and keep something sustainable."
Japan has a very strong "pop culture" and Futsal fits perfectly into their urban lifestyle, David said.
"It didn't happen overnight. The F league started in 2007, but they've been working on it for 20 years."
David said Japan has a really strong structure for Futsal, and "if anything speaks to the strength of the Japan Football Association and why Futsal is loved as well, its a participation structure where if you participate in any form of football, you must be a member. So they are able to organize all of these people and that is the main strength of the Japanese."
Australia is busy with bids for the Asian Cup and World Cup, but they put some effort into Futsal, David said.
"The main strength of Australia is they are not a newbie here. They've actually been doing strong Futsal programs for quite some time. The only problem with Australia is their geography. Because of the geography they've never really had quality competition. So they spend money to get quality teams, which has not been easy for them. I see them in the future getting stronger. They always finish in fifth or sixth place in Asia."
Fifth to eight place used to belong to the "Stan" countries. These countries used to be very powerful in Futsal because they were supported by the former Soviet Union when all sports were state supported, David said. But that disappeared in the early 90s after the Soviet Union dissolved.
"The facilities weren't supported anymore. The leagues weren't supported any more, and they became weaker. And they've always been stuck with Russia's way of doing things."
The "Stans" have basically been going it alone and getting foreign coaches, David, said.
"One, Sergio Sapo, is coaching Uzbekistan now. They've applied for FIFA courses. And they've been trying to restructure their leagues. But I don't see them recovering for another five years. I want to put them in the same category with the top four, five or six, but that is where Australia is capitalizing."
China has excellent financial resources and a lot of people, David said. Futsal in China is a little weak now, because China has other priorities with the bigger, more popular sports. But they still have quite a number of resources for Futsal.
"Some of the people in the China Football Assn. believe they could be excellent in Futsal. It's great having a vice president of the CFA totally dedicated to Futsal."
Iran does exceptionally well because of state support and passion for the game.
"The passion for Futsal in Iran is unbelievable," David said. "I've been to Iran a lot of times, and the people just love it. Iran has a totally unique personality in how to do things."
He noted as an example that Iran hired a Brazilian coach and the players wouldn't listen to him.
"They only listen to an Iranian. So they brought back the father of Futsal, Hossein Shams, to be the head coach, and then they hired a Brazilian director to develop the youth players and turn them over to the Iranian coach."
"Iran has all of these Futsal salons all over the country. The only thing they lack in Iran to make them a world power, because of the trade sanctions and embargo, is commercial sponsors for their leagues. But the passion is there, and the numbers are there. It's huge. There are so many people playing. They are one of the only countries in Asia with the proper division youth system. They have everything under structure, all the way down to the kids. Similar to the way it works in Spain and Brazil, which is, everyone plays Futsal, and when you turn 14, you choose football or Futsal."
Success of Futsal development in Asia comes down to getting the right ball for the kids, David said.
"The size of ball is very critical for a three-year-old or a 13-year-old. In Asia, the youth size balls are generally not available. Nike has come up with a youth size ball, but only recently, and it's only one size smaller. But it's finally happening, and it's a good thing that Nike is finally putting money into Futsal."
Using the right size ball, kids will be able to develop top-level technique, David said.
"Only one country in Asia right now has the unique technique for Futsal, and that's Iran. The way they play is silky smooth. It's like their feet are caressing the ball and dragging it over oil. The only way we will break into the top three is when countries develop their own style and have the proper technique. And I don't see it happening in the next five to 10 years. Only Iran has the proper technique, but they don't have the proper balls. How many players are wasted just because they can't adjust to the big Futsal ball. It's like you're playing a different sport until you're 14. When Nike put a youth Futsal ball on the market, I went nuts. Let's show Nike that there really is a market for it."
David came up through the ranks of Philippine soccer and was offered a scholarship to attend FIFA's Master's Degree program in Sports Management.
"Basically you learn sports history in England, sports business in Italy and sports law in Switzerland. Sponsored by FIFA, but it's not only for football. It's for everything. They're working on their 10th batch of students already."
After completing the degree, he joined the AFC as their coordinator for Futsal.
David said establishment of FIFA world Futsal rankings will help spur the growth of the sport in Asia.
"Unless we come up with a decent world ranking for Futsal, people are not going to report their friendly games. There are so many Futsal activities happening, but they don't report them because there is no point. Even something like ranking will give countries a reason to spend because at least they know where their money is going. We are only tapping about 20 percent of the Futsal activities really happening in Asia at an international level. And the reason for that is that there are no FIFA world rankings. The moment they have FIFA world rankings, people will have justification to report their games."
David also called for a unified academy system to develop Futsal in Asia.
"If there's anything for Futsal that will benefit the world, it's a unified academy system. Then everyone will follow the same line. If they pool their resources, everyone can help. For me the future of Futsal is in the academy system because it's one of the best developers for youth."