Football likely to be U-21 affair at 2017 SEA Games
It turned from a senior competition to an Under-23 affair at the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur and, when the biennial Games return to the Malaysian capital in 2017, the football tournament could well feature even younger athletes.
Asean Football Federation (AFF) general secretary Azzuddin Ahmad told The New Paper yesterday that an in-principle agreement was reached at a recent AFF Council meeting to make the football tournament an Under-21 affair.
The next step will be for the AFF to confirm the decision at its next council meeting in Australia on Dec 6, before Member Associations (MAs) are required to write to their respective National Olympic Councils (NOCs) to ratify the change with the SEA Games Federation (SAEGF).
When contacted yesterday, the Singapore National Olympic Council said it looks forward to hearing from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on the matter.
TNP had earlier reported (see report, Jan 6, 2014, below) that turning the SEA Games football competition into an Under-21 affair was being explored, and it appears that the gears are in motion to make that a reality.
"This was brought up in discussion at the AFF Council meeting and most countries are in agreement to make the SEA Games tournament an Under-21 competition," said Azzuddin.
"This is to help countries use the SEA Games as preparation for Olympic qualifiers and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) age-group tournaments, which are aimed at the Under-23 level.
"The target is to get this going in the 2017 edition of the SEA Games."
Azzudin added that the move will be finalised only after the next AFF council meeting in Australia on Dec 6.
In 1996, the Olympic football tournament was turned into an Under-23 affair, and a year later the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced that the SEA Games would follow suit, a move that was implemented in 2001.
Then-AFC general secretary, Peter Velappan, said the move was to help countries develop youth talent for the senior national side and to level the playing field.
The idea to level the playing field, though, does not seem to have materialised, with Thailand winning the SEA Games gold medal in every edition since - including this year in June in Singapore - except in 2009 and 2011 when Malaysia's Under-23s claimed back-to-back wins.