Is It Time To Merge The Confederations of Asia and Oceania?

Written by Sebastien on 25 March 2013. Posted in World Cup Blog

This past weekend, New Zealand moved to within a two-legged playoff of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a 2-1 victory away to New Caledonia, their closest rivals in the Oceania Football Confederation’s qualification process. The victory continued their 100% record in the final group stage, with 15 goals scored and just two conceded over five matches.

The All Whites now face a long wait until November, when they will take part in a playoff with the fourth placed team from the CONCACAF region (North and Central America) to determine whether or not they will qualify for Brazil 2014.

The ease with which New Zealand have reached this stage - as they did with similar comfort ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - has again raised questions as to the validity of the Oceania confederation running their own qualification process, separate from that of their closest geographical neighbours, Asia.

When Australia upped sticks, for political as much as sporting reasons, to join the Asian Confederation in 2006, it left New Zealand with a lack of competition in Oceania. New Caledonia have made impressive strides and are now just 15 places behind the All Whites in the FIFA World Rankings, but bar a major upset it is hard to imagine a nation other than New Zealand emerging from the region’s qualification system in the near future.

New Zealand will begin to suffer from the same problems that plagued Australia prior to their defection. A lack of regular matches against opposition of similar or better calibre will make it difficult for the All Whites to improve, while small crowds and small television audiences will fail to provide them with requisite funds to attract and retain high quality coaches.

There will come a point whereby the benefits of the Oceania region - shorter travelling distances, near guaranteed progression to a continental playoff - will be outweighed by the negatives, and New Zealand, too, may consider the Asian Confederation a more apt home.

It would seem wise to pre-empt this moment and move to merge the two bodies into an Asia-Pacific confederation ahead of the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

It is an idea that has previously been mooted, and indeed one that has also reared it’s head in other sports. Recently elected Oceania Cycling Confederation head Amy Gillett has indicated that she will seek greater collaboration with her Asian counterparts ahead of a possible merger, while there is already a joint Asia-Oceania confederation in the sport of Floorball

There would clearly be logistical problems with merging two confederations that cover such a large geographical area, but this could easily be solved by splitting the preliminary stages of qualification into regional tournaments, with West Asia and the Middle East, East Asia and Oceania each providing a set number of teams for the final stage of the process.

A continuation of the current format is of benefit to no-one. Hopefully sense will prevail before the next World Cup qualification process begins in 2015.

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