Kafashian: 'Qatar World Cup will be our World Cup!'

Ali Kafashian, the vice-president of the Iran Football Federation, hopes that Qatar would host a wonderful World Cup in 2022 and also congratulated India for accepting the challenge to conduct the Under-17 world Cup next year.

A file photo of Ali Kafashian.   -  Special Arrangement

In an email interview to Sportstar, the vice-president of the Iran Football Federation Ali Kafashian, expressed hope that Qatar would host a wonderful World Cup in 2022 and also congratulated India for accepting the challenge to conduct the Under-17 world Cup next year.



Do you think Qatar can make a statement by successfully conducting the 2022 FIFA World Cup?

I have no doubt that our brothers and sisters in Qatar can stage a successful World Cup. I include our sisters there too, as I know their youthful population, men and women, are working very hard to break stereotypes and overcoming huge challenges that their young nation is facing. As a young nation, they are going through changes at an incredible pace. This means along the way they may be making a mistake or two. But, they are prepared to face those challenges, listen to constructive criticism and implement positive changes.



In your view, what should be the objectives of the second ever FIFA World Cup in Asia and the first ever in the Middle East?

The primary objective of each World Cup is to stage 64 games so that one of FIFA’s 209 member associations can have the bragging rights for four years. However, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a golden opportunity for not just Qatar, or the Middle East, but all Muslim nations and population around the world to show what the true face of Islam is.

In the current political climate, it is vitally important to display the similarities between people of all faith, race and colour. How family values are at the core of our lives. The notion of tolerance and respect, something the likes of Gandhi and Mandela fought for all their lives, should be at the front and centre of the 22nd FIFA World Cup. If you travel across the Muslim world and especially in North Africa and Middle East, everyone; old and young, would smile and utter one English word, WELCOME. And that is the true essence of people in our region.



In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, you have said Iran will lend a helping hand to Qatar in conducting the World Cup… In what ways Iran can help the 2022 host?

First and foremost by qualifying for the finals. Our fans are amongst the most passionate in the world. We played the United States in a friendly in Los Angeles in January 2000 and Pasadena’s Rose Bowl was packed to the rafters by Iranian fans. At the Asian Cup in Australia, we had the second biggest fan base behind the host nation, with 25,000 regularly supporting us. Can you imagine Iran in Qatar? We will fill the stadiums and bring so much colour to the tournament.

In addition to that, we will give our unequivocal moral support to Qatar. It is an opportunity of a life-time to have the world’s biggest and most important sporting (and not just football) event on our doorsteps. The eyes of the world will be on our region. This will be a great opportunity for us to come together. We have so much in common with each other (and the rest of the world) that has sadly been forgotten as a result of events of the last decade or so. Football and this World Cup can and will be a catalyst for positive change. We will do our utmost to make sure the 22nd FIFA World Cup will not be just about 64 games between 21st November and 18th December 2022.



How important is the hosting of the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup to India?

I cannot stress enough what a huge and brave undertaking my colleagues at the All India Football Federation have accepted. India was once a great football nation. I remember the first time Iran qualified for an international event was weeks before my 10th birthday. Iran had to overcome India to reach the football tournament of the 1964 Olympic Games. Defeating India home and away (3-0 and 3-1) signalled our coming of age. It was a huge milestone in Iranian football. Sadly that is no longer the case as Indian football has declined.

Next year’s Under-17 FIFA World Cup can reawaken your sense of pride in your rich football history and bring youngsters back to the football fields and simply streets to play pick up football. I followed the fortunes of your Under-16 team in the current AFC championship in Goa. They have showed great signs of progress since I last saw them in Iran during the preliminaries. Having the world’s greatest players in the Under-17 age group in your country next year along with AIFF’s development programmes will no doubt be the start a long and winding road to regain your glorious past.



Besides organising competitions in Asia, another centrepiece of Asian Football Confederation’s mission is to develop football in the continent. What is the cornerstone of your ideas for development of the sport in Asia?

First and foremost, we need to get our children onto the streets again. When you travel anywhere across the world (and not just Asia), you tend to see children imprisoned in their bedrooms or living rooms chained to their computer screens or games. We need to get them out and let them have fun playing street football first and foremost. We will then need to set up scouting centres in conjunction with professional clubs to identify raw talent. Beyond that, we will have to formulate a development programme for these identified youngsters to train and compete at official competitions like the AFC’s Festival of football, but at national level. This will have to be a joint project between each national association and their affiliated professional clubs. It will be a win-win situation for all concerned. Our continent of 4.5-billion people, the majority of whom are absolutely mad about football, should be able to produce a world class player or two every now and again.



FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been criticised for weakening the independence of the governing body's compliance and ethics committees by giving unprecedented powers to the FIFA Council... What is your take on that?

I know of this subject as much as you do; from the distance. When these allegations were levied against President Infantino, I was (and still am) not part of the newly formed FIFA Council. However, what I gather is the fact that the very people who were accusing Gianni Infantino of violating or as you put it weakening the independence of FIFA’s compliance and ethics committee were leaking their discussion with Infantino on the terms of his employment and salary, even before they had finalised those discussions. Can you call that an ethical exercise on their part? From the outside, it appeared to me some sort of personal feud rather than sticking to principles.



When can we see Iran hosting a World Cup?

Not soon enough! We understand China is interested in becoming the next Asian nation after Qatar to host FIFA’s flagship event. They have made a bold statement that they want to host in 2030. In reality, even that is far fetched, unless the Chinese have already come to an agreement with UEFA members and in particular front runners; England. In 2030, the World Cup will either go back to Europe after its second 12-year absence from the continent or as per some talks to a co-hosting between Uruguay and Argentina in 2030 to mark the centenary of the World Cup, first staged in Uruguay. In the event of the latter case, the 2034 FIFA World Cup will surely go back to Europe after sixteen years. China can then only hope to stage the World Cup in 2038. Maybe, we will compete with our Chinese colleagues to lure the world to our shores in 2038 and if they outmuscle us, it will be up to our next generation to realise that dream in 2050 or beyond!

But, for the time being, we feel a great stake in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar. The people in our region and indeed Muslims of the world should cherish this opportunity to foster peace and harmony across the globe. The Qatar World Cup will be our World Cup.

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