FOR the first time ever, the World Football Summit (WFS) will be in the Asian region, with Malaysia being the first host country.
Themed, “Where The Asian Football Industry Meets”, the summit aims to become the most prominent international event for the Asian football industry by offering a platform to meet and connect with international industry players as well as to identify key businesses.
The WFS is funded by La Liga and has previously run the event successfully in Madrid, Spain, for the past three years.
The international summit will be held in Kuala Lumpur on April 29 to 30.
MetroSport caught up with Port Dickson-born WFS Asia chief executive officer Mohan Rajaratnam to talk about the objectives, opportunities and impact the summit will bring to the local and Asian football landscape.
MetroSport: Can you tell us more on the upcoming summit here in KL?
Mohan Rajaratnam: WFS Asia is the international event for the Asian football industry, gathering the most influential professionals in order to discuss the most relevant topics and generate business opportunities for all those involved.
Kuala Lumpur will be the centre of attraction of the football community as there will be over 2,000 attendees from 50 countries with over 60 renowned speakers with over 70 football clubs from Asia and Europe represented. There will also be exhibitors and over 100 media involved in the two-day event.
MS: How was WFS initiated?
MR: It started in Madrid in 2016 and held there until last year when they decided to come to Asia because of the sheer popularity of the sport here. Qatar and China were bidding to host it but they were looking at Malaysia simply because the Asian Football Federation (AFC) headquarters is here.
So from being a European-based summit now Asia is involved for the first time and we have a five-year contract plus an additional five-year extension to host this event and we also have the option of moving this event to any part of the region.
MS: What happens during the summit and who are the speakers involved and what kind of topics do they discuss?
MR: The summit involves the main stage, industry stage and then we also have an expo. Industry players use this chance to mainly network and exchange information from startup sports companies to products.
The market in Asia has seen tremendous growth and it was a no-brainer to bring the summit to this part of the world. The added advantage is that Kuala Lumpur is well-equipped with all the infrastructure to host a summit of this magnitude.
We work very closely with La Liga, which is our global partner and they will be present here to give their input on the Spanish league, together with speakers from FIFA, AFC and the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).
MS: Who are the important people in the industry who will be here for the summit?
MR: La Liga will be well represented in the keynote and panel forums led by their president Javier Tebas. The Bundesliga chief executive officer Robert Klein will also be here.
Big clubs like Man City, Arsenal, Sevilla, Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain will also be represented together with Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim who will be sharing the floor as Malaysian Football League chairman.
AFC secretary-general Datuk Windsor Paul John will also be present together with representatives from Astro, beIN Sports Asia, the J-League and Sky Sports from UK.
MS: What are the objectives of the WFS Asia?
MR: It is for people in the industry to meet up and for those who are new in the game to meet potential sponsors, see how associations are run and so on.
The objectives include creating awareness on the different aspects of the football industry, including governance, finance, investment and technology.
All the 47 associations with AFC will be represented here so they can gain insights on the various aspects of the game which will ultimately benefit the game in the region.
Local clubs can also learn how teams like Serie A champions Juventus picked themselves up from the bribery scandal that rocked Italian football and saw the club demoted to the third tier of the league and eventually how they bounced back.
MS: Do the big European clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich share their methods of moulding youngsters in their grassroots programmes and how they unearth talent and make them superstars?
MR: Yes, they do share the infrastructure and coaching methods and they are aware of the huge potential in Asia. Countries like Japan and South Korea have improved by leaps and bounds and closer to home, Thailand and Vietnam have also been performing well.
So yes, grassroots football is a topic that is of importance. La Liga, for example, has a programme where they adopt schools and train the youngsters and eventually take them for tournaments, which has proven to be very successful in talent development.
Companies get involved as part of their CSR initiatives and that should be something we should look into here. We can learn from their module.
We have a CSR program in the pipeline with an international NGO that will be announced soon, where they want football clubs to adopt communities and train youths to become the next big star.
MS: What are the opportunities and impact WFS Asia will bring to the Malaysian and Asian football scene?
MR: We will hear success stories. How association, leagues and clubs were back then and how they have prospered today using the modern techniques and technology of the game.
The implementation of development programmes that were successful in Europe with the backing of corporations and how associations have prospered is another important keynote that will be shared.
The key aspects of economy impact, CSR and technology like Video Assistant Referee (VAR) topics are key in this summit.
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