As part of the organising team for Japan’s first major international tournament, the World Youth Cup in 1979, Junji Ogura saw the legend of Diego Maradona being born.
As deputy secretary of Japan’s World Cup hosting committee, he oversaw the quadrennial event’s only attempt at experimenting with two host nations. One that reportedly cost Japan $4.6 billion in infrastructure alone.
But the FIFA executive committee member since 2002 admitted that Germany did a better job this time. “Our problems were different,” the 68-year-old administrator told the Hindustan Times on Tuesday. “But the biggest plus from Germany was the fan areas. Even people without tickets could participate in the excitement that a World Cup generates.”
Asked about Japan’s disappointing performance in Germany, Ogura said coach Zico overestimated the ability of Europe-based players to blend with the rest of the squad. His replacement Ivica Osim’s giving home-grown players international experience (like against India) is an important step towards redressing that, Ogura said.
Like all FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials — Ogura is an executive committee member of the continental body too and a vice-president of the Japan Football Association — he said India and China are key markets. Unlike most of them though, Ogura added that the focus would shift on them only after the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, the AFC would watch how things pan out in India, he said.
“The slogan for FIFA now is ‘win in Africa with Africa’,” Ogura said. “South Africa are hosting the 2009 Confederations Cup and the under-17 World Cup too is being staged in that continent. FIFA is spending on artificial turfs and organising special courses for trainers. After that India and China will be our next big targets.”
Like AFC general-secretary Peter Velappan and anyone else who has an opinion on Indian football, Ogura stressed on the need for a professional league. “We are not happy with the way the league (only three years younger than the J-League) is run.”
Ogura was also not sure whether the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) decision to set up headquarters near New Delhi was right (“Aren’t Kolkata, Goa and Kerala places with a tradition of following football?”) but said the AFC is hopeful that being based in the capital would reap benefits.
Asked whether the complete lack of spectator interest here reflected poorly on the AFC, Ogura said the Youth Championships are treated as an investment. But by pointing out that 320,000 tickets were sold out for the World Youth Cup finals in Canada next year, Ogura highlighted the contrast between the continental and global competitions even if he did not mean to.
“The biggest plus for us in tournaments like this happens when the relatively weaker teams bridge the gap with the heavyweights,” Ogura said.
“It happened in the under-17 competition in Singapore this year. I am hoping it will happen here too.”
Till Tuesday, North Korea and Thailand had obliged.