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Hong Kong: A landmark social responsibility conference organised jointly by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Premier League took place on Thursday in Hong Kong. The AFC-PL Football Social Development Conference 2017 addressed football’s role as a force of good.

AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John and Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore welcomed the participants.

Director of International and Government Relations Tim Vine and Premier League Consultant Jeremy Weeks began the conference by introducing the Premier League Primary Stars and School Tournament. The fan and community engagement programme uses the appeal of a Premier League club to inspire children across England with the aim to develop life skills. It also provides teaching resources on English, Maths and Physical Education to schools.

“We are excited to share this with you all here today, and hopefully be able to share the programme outside of England and into Asia,” said Vine.

AFC Technical Director Andy Roxburgh then presented on the Route to Success, sharing the four pillars in football development: coaching, grassroots, elite youths and women’s football. The AFC will begin to implement a series of programmes, such as the AFC Coaching Convention that enhances the quality and increases the quantity of Asian coach tutors, the AFC Grassroots Charter which recognises grassroots as non-professional and non-elite football, represents a benchmark for Member Associations to aspire towards and will play an invaluable role to raise the quality of grassroots programmes throughout the continent.

In addition, competitions like the AFC U-16, U-19 and U-23 Championships play a role in providing a platform for nations to develop new generations of footballers, providing impetus for the development of elite youths and women’s football.

Ian Cawley, Leicester City Academy Manager, spoke on the social development efforts by the academy - the Wider World Project. The aim is to ensure the players stay connected to the world outside football, through community volunteering, inspiring and influencing the community through football and encouraging work experience outside football to create a dual career path.

The highlight of the conference was the AFC Dream Asia Awards, where Shell Qatar, Football for All in Vietnam and Nguyen Hoang Phuong were named the winners of the three categories - corporate, non-governmental organisation (NGO) and individual - respectively.

The award recognises and honours those who have shown exemplary commitment towards social development by using football as an agent for change.

After the award ceremony, the panel discussions began on the topic of female engagement with Liverpool FC Ladies Development Squad Manager Vicky Jepson, Eastern SC coach Chan Yuen-ting and AFC Head of Women’s Football Development Bai Lili.

The session was moderated by Jeremy Weeks, Premier League’s Premier Skills Head Coach, and the panellists spoke about the changing role of women within the game in Asia, the importance of engaging young girls in football programmes and the impact of the growth of female leagues on participation.

As a legacy of the conference, the AFC’s Female Member of the FIFA Council Mahfuza Akhter Kiron handed over the AFC Dream Asia Foundation’s 400,000HKD donation to President of the Hong Kong Football Association Ltd (HKFA) Timothy Fok and Betty Wong, the Women’s Football Manager at the HKFA.

Girls and women in Hong Kong will benefit from the donation by the AFC Dream Asia Foundation, as it will help fund a specific programme involving schoolgirls in Hong Kong. The planned activities include education and awareness raising through football on health, social inclusion and environmental issues.

The next theme of the discussion was charitable foundations with panel guests Gary Mulcahey, Palace for Life Foundation Director, Ivan Tam from Woofoo Social Enterprise, CEO of SCORT Foundation & Football Alliances Marc-Andre Buchwalder and Zesh Rehman, professional player for Southern District FC and founder of the Zesh Rehman Foundation.

The panel discussed the importance for individuals and organisations to “give back to the game”, before they shared on the success they have had both with individuals and local communities, as well as their future plans to continue the positive work.

The success of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games increased awareness of disability sport in Asia and had a significant impact on the opportunities for football players with a disability, both in Asia and globally.

As the last panel of the conference discussed the topic of disability football, Albion Foundation Deputy Director Allison Tripney, Jan-Hein Evers Secretary, General of the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football, along with Martin Lam, the Hong Kong Paralympic Council Member and Amal Abushallakh, the United Arab Emirates Social Responsibility Committee Chairwoman, shared their views of the changing attitudes to disability sport in Asia.

“Professional football generates a whole lot of interest and this can be channelled to good causes. That power has to be used in its widest possible way for change,” said Scudamore.

“Football can offer life-changing moments, taking children out of poverty, offering education. No matter how developed the economy, there is always a need for social development, and football can be a vehicle for that.”

Photos: Getty Images

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