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Richard Lai
Richard Lai

 Lai elected to AFC Executive Committee                                            

Richard Lai, President of the Guam Football Association, was recently elected to the Asian Football Confederation Executive Committee, an unprecedented honor for the island.

The 22nd AFC Congress, held in May of this year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, elected Lai to the position.

"My job is (helping to) oversee and operate football in the entire AFC," Lai said.

To understand the magnitude of this honor, consider this: Guam is one of nine nations in the East Asian Football Federation. The EAFF is one of four different regional federations of the AFC- the others being the ASEAN, West Asian and Central & South Asian Football Federations. With the other three regional federations included, there are a total of 47 member nations in the AFC, making the AFC the most populated-- at four billion people-- out of the six worldwide confederations.

"While I was an EAFF ex-co member, I was the benefit of becoming an AFC ex-co member... for example, seeing where the marketing money goes," Lai said. He was elected to a four-year term with the help of his slogan "I will be the voice for the grassroots countries."

"I believe all countries have an equal right to play football (soccer)... a kid in Guam should be able to have the same dream to become a professional as a kid in Germany," Lai said.

After the AFC president, there are four vice presidents --one from each federation. Next in line are the 19 Executive Committee members --the position to which Lai was elected.

The significance of why Guam, the AFC's smallest member, has a position in the highest AFC committee has attracted interest from other areas of the world.

"Just this past week, an Al Jazeera English news crew visited Guam to do a story on Guam football (soccer)," GFA general secretary Tino San Gil said. Al Jazeera English is the 24-hour English-language news channel and sister channel of Al Jazeera.

Lai also said that a reporter from the British Broadcasting Corporation was in Macau with Lai and the Guam men's national team.

"Basically he wanted to know how a small country like us that struggles financially still manages to participate in the most tournaments per capita," Lai said. He added that financial support from FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and local volunteers that have a good heart are the main reason for this and the emergence of soccer as the island's most popular sport.

Lai lives in Barrigada Heights with his wife Irmina and daughters Stephanie, 16, Shaneika, 14, and Shavonne, 12.

Cunliffe Awarded

Attorney F. Randall Cunliffe was also present at the 22nd AFC Congress and was a recipient of a distinguished service award. Cunliffe was one of 12 individuals that were given a Bronze Star.

"(Cunliffe's) service being recognized by the AFC is definitely an honor for Guam" Lai said. Cunliffe is currently the AFC Appeals Committee chairman and was formerly the AFC Legal Committee deputy chairman.

The award, given to AFC Executive Committee members, Board members, coaches, referees and those who have rendered meritorious services to the development and promotion of football in the Asian continent, is for individuals who have served the AFC for at least ten years.

EAFF Women's Championship

Lai's appointment and Cunliffe's award precede the EAFF Women's Championship preliminary competition --to be hosted by Guam for the first time. The tournament will run from July 1 to July 5 at LeoPalace Resort and will see the Guam Women's national team take on Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Korea Republic.

"I think our team will do good," Lai said. "They have a good chance to upset Hong Kong and maybe even Chinese Taipei. It will be a little tougher against Korea Republic so if they can keep the score down, it will be a success," he said.


By Brett Maluwelmeng
For Pacific Daily News

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