Sat, 12 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Australia hopes to ditch Oceania region for Asia

Reuters, Sydney

Australia have asked world soccer's governing body FIFA for permission to leave the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and join Asia as part of a move to develop their domestic game and make it easier to qualify for the World Cup.

Frank Lowy, chairman of Football Federation Australia (FFA), released a statement on Friday confirming talks were underway for his country to join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) after 2006.

"For some time now the FFA has had an objective to join AFC," Lowy said. "Our current affiliation leaves Australia in an anomalous situation in a football sense."

FFA chief executive John O'Neill said the push to join Asia was part of a long-term strategy to improve the commercial and competitive nature of soccer in a country where it lags behind the more popular football codes of Australian Rules, rugby union and rugby league.

"There is no doubt that if FFA is able to achieve membership of AFC, it will go a long way towards transforming football in Australia," O'Neill said.

"As we move from a domestic competitive environment into an exciting, dynamic, regional one, (this) will contribute to the improved competitive position of the game at all levels, particularly national team and club."

Under the existing arrangement the Oceania winner, Australia or the Solomon Islands, has to playoff against a South American team while Asia has four direct qualifying spots and a playoff position.

Australia is the dominant force in the region but has qualified for the World Cup only once, in 1974.

OFC general secretary Tai Nicholas told the New Zealand Press Association the confederation had not been told about the proposed move, let alone discussed it.

"Until the members of OFC have been consulted and expressed their views on such a proposal, OFC is not in a position to make any further comment," Nicholas said.

New Zealand Soccer chief executive Graham Seatter said he was strongly opposed to the move, arguing it would damage Oceania's position in the game.

"We have suffered by being in the weakest FIFA confederation. Without Australia we would be further weakened and we will suffer more," Seatter told the New Zealand Herald.

"There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge before this happens."

GetRTR 3.00 -- MAR 11, 2005 11:24:12