The president of Asia's football governing body says Gulf nations want the Socceroos expelled from the continental confederation.
"There are indications that prove that such desire exists among the confederations of west Asia to evict Australia. But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones who are not convinced that Australia's membership in Asia's football is feasible."
- AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, - ABC News, 30th Jan 2015
With Australia hosting and playing in the AFC Asian Cup football final tonight, there is a very real chance that by midnight tonight, Australia could hold both of Asia's top football prizes: The Asian Cup and the AFC Champions League Cup (after Western Sydney Wanderers won it in November).
As the ABC reported, the reason for Arabic nations unhappiness about Australia being in the confederation is because that since it entered the Asian Football Confederation it has appeared at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and the knockout stages of all three Asian Cups it has played in including two finals.
The ABC makes the rather obvious point that "there is a feeling among aspirational west Asian nations that the Socceroos are taking a spot away from the rest of the continent"; this was dealt with more bluntly and with all the tact of a sledgehammer hitting an egg by the Daily Mail which ran the headline "Are we too good for Asian Cup soccer?"¹ The answer to the Daily Mail's question is obviously demonstrably 'yes' but in lieu of the fact that Australia is easily too good for Oceania but not good enough for South America, Asia is the logical spot for Australia to play.
The question then is, is that the right action which should be taken? If Australia is showing up the rest of Asia to be not very good, doesn't that imply that Asia needs to lift its game? Or perhaps the other argument might be true, that it isn't that Australia is taking away an Asian spot at the World Cup but that there aren't enough Asian spots - this argument can be made easily.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, thirty-two teams competed:
4 of 47 from the AFC,
4 of 41 from the CONCACAF,
5 of 56 from the CAF,
6 of 10 from CONMEBOL and
13 of 54 from UEFA.
There were also zero from the OFC.
Now tell me who's taking up all the spots at the World Cup? Was it Australia did it have more to do with the fact that UEFA by itself took up more than four confederations? CONMEBOL which is from South America only has 10 nations but 60% of them went to the World Cup.
The average rankings at the tournament was thus though:
52.0 - AFC,
23.5 - CONCACAF,
36.4 - CAF
10.5 - CONMEBOL and
11.2 - UEFA.
The highest ranked team in Asia which was Iran was ranked 43 but the lowest ranked nation from any other confedration was Nigeria at 44.
It didn't help either that the four Asian nations all came bottom of their groups at the World Cup though - four year's previous in 2010, 3 of 4 escaped the group stages; you have to go all the way back to 2002 to find an African or Asian nation in the quarter-finals.
The question now I suppose is how does anyone expect Africa or Asia or North America to improve if they aren't sending teams to major competitions. I don't think that the big issue is that Australia is taking away a spot from Asia but that Asia and Africa and North America aren't given enough spots.
What to do about this, then eh? I think that the solution is obvious. Don't expel Australia but give Asia more spots in the World Cup. Second to that I think that the OFC should be subsumed by the AFC.
Realistically when you have nations like Tuvalu which has a population of less than 11,000 people or even Tahiti at 183,000, you can't expect any OFC nation other than New Zealand or Fiji to qualify for anything ever; even New Zealand floated plans for join CONMEBOL in 2013.
If the OFC was absorbed by the AFC, the membership of the AFC would increase to 61 nations... sort of. As part of that process, I'd suggest that the entire OFC except for Fiji and New Zealand play as the Oceania Football Team. Combined teams aren't unheard of, even in FIFA - the Soviet Union made it to four European Championship finals and won one and was even Olympic football champion in 1956. The Oceania Football Team would probably never reach those heights but it might give the AFC the necessary bargaining power to some of South America's or Europe's spots away from them.
Expelling Australia from Asia isn't the answer I think. I don't think that the argument should be with Australia for being too good but with FIFA for protecting its own.