Soccer authorities in Saudi Arabia are spearheading a plan to create a new regional federation comprising 14 national member associations from across southwest Asia.
Plans for the organisation, to be known as the South West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF), were announced during a meeting in Jeddah last week.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the national soccer associations of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Maldives, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates. A senior official from Fifa, soccer’s global governing body, was also in attendance.
The SWAFF will sit alongside five other zonal federations under the umbrella of the 47-nation Asian Football Confederation (AFC), one of Fifa’s six continental confederations. AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is said to be open to the move.
Under the announced plans, Saudi Arabia will ‘help grow and resource’ soccer programmes in the region, working with each of member country to establish commercial initiatives and build new facilities, academies and competitions. According to The Indian Express, the country has offered each SWAFF member US$500,000 to join the new federation.
"The nations of South and West Asia want to work with each other to grow football in the region, and to compete on a more equal playing field at future World Cup competitions and international tournaments," Dr Adel Ezzat, the president and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), said in a statement.
According to Abdulla Aljunaibi, vice president of the UAE football federation, the creation of SWAFF has been welcomed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, whose administration is currently considering a US$25 billion offer from a Saudi-backed consortium of investors to create new Fifa-sanctioned competitions, including a revamped Club World Cup and an all-new Global Nations League.
Several of the SWAFF member associations previously sat within the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF), which also included the likes of Qatar, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The exclusion of those countries in the new breakaway entity has led to suggestions that its creation is a politically motived move by Saudi Arabia, which remains embroiled in a spat with many of its Gulf neighbours, most notably Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 World Cup.
The Indian Express reports that another factor in the formation of SWAFF is Jordan Football Federation’s chief Prince Ali bin Hussein’s refusal to move WAFF’S headquarters from Amman to Riyadh, as demanded by the Saudis.