Sport is such a great leveller, and a perfect forum for bringing nations together and kick some export goals.
The Socceroos may have had a scare against Oman, but we’re back on track for the Asia Cup. It is great that the Socceroos now get to test themselves regularly against substantial competition.
Going to the World Cup through Asia is also important in giving our team some rigorous competition. In the past we would play the minnows of Oceania but then would have to play a major South American team to qualify. Hardly ideal preparation.
However, there are also economic benefits to playing in Asia as well. In a speech presented at the Lowy Institute’s conference on Football Diplomacy in 2005, I found that Australia has more trade engagement in the nations that make up the Asian Football Confederation than anywhere else.
For instance, the research found that the top ranked AFC nations accounted for around of $42 billion in exports compared to $13.6 billion of the top ranked FIFA nations.
Football is also the ideal sport to encourage trade links, given our proximity to Asia and the strong links between football support and Australia’s own exporter demographics.
So what can we do? In sports like rugby and cricket we have the Bledisloe Cup and the Ashes, so why not start a tradition for football matches with our Asian neighbours. Why not a Supachai-Fischer Cup when we play Thailand?
(The cup could take, for example, the names of the former Thai prime minister and World Trade Organisation director-general Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi and former Australian deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer. After all, Dr Supachai has been a long-standing supporter of Australia in international forums such as APEC, and Tim Fischer is well known for his enthusiasm for Thai-Australian relations.)
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And how about something with Japan, or China and Korea? Even outside Asia, why don’t we have a special football tournament with Turkey and New Zealand in honour of Anzac Day?
Another thing we could do is establish a Football Business Club Australia to help leverage our football links in terms of trade and investment in Asia and at the World Cup. Business networking – or “the power of schmooze” can have all sorts of possibilities on and off the field. For example, as a result of the Lowy Conference last year, Austrade also helped Sydney FC with some business ties in Japan during their Asian Clubs championships last year.
So good luck you mighty Socceroos, and let’s hope that your journey through to the Asian Cup Final will help build stronger ties between Asia and Australia in both trade and football.
*Tim Harcourt is chief economist at Austrade and a Socceroos fanatic www.austrade.gov.au/economistscorner. He watches Sydney FC at home and supports Liverpool and Roma away.
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