Former student of the FIFA/CIES Executive Programme organised by Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (SUAD), Yasser Al Misehal, has held different positions in national and international football. Now President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), here he talks about some key moments in his career, the role that education has played in his professional career development and the challenges facing Saudi football.
To begin, tell us about your duties and your links with football.
I completed a bachelor's degree in finance (with Honors) at the King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals, a well-known University in the Middle East. It is located in Dhahran, a city of about 120,000 inhabitants in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
However, my passion for football goes back to childhood. Since I was a child, I have been an avid fan of this sport. Over the years, I have been able to build a platform to this craze, notably by working as a volunteer for Al Ettifaq Club, which was founded in 1944, of which I later became an honorary member.
This volunteering commitment has turned into a career which has been marked by various stages, each one more enriching than the last. Indeed, I have had the pleasure and the honour of serving in various positions within Saudi and international football: member of the AFC Professional Clubs Committee (2011-2014), member of the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee since 2015, CEO of the Saudi Professional League (2013-2016) and then President of this organisation (2017-2018), not forgetting my appointment as a member of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee in 2017.
Finally, three years ago, I was elected Vice-President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, of which I am now President.
Why did you decide to participate in the FIFA/CIES Programme organised by the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi (SUAD)?
In today's world, sport is confronted with an increasing number of challenges. Every day, the environment of sport - and that of football in particular – grows more complex. It is therefore necessary to be able to analyse and manage difficult situations. For me, there is no doubt that training is a key element in tackling this inflation of challenges. Furthermore, as I love football, I was keen to follow a course which would develop my managerial skills while I was CEO of the Saudi Professional League. Therefore, I decided to follow the FIFA/CIES Programme proposed by SUAD.
Has this Programme been useful for your professional life?
Yes, for sure! This Programme covers all the general aspects of management. In concrete terms, it has enabled me to improve my knowledge in the fields of sports management and football administration, while providing me with personal career growth, practical insights and knowledge. All this ultimately contributed to the journey that led to my election as President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) in June 2019.
What are the main challenges facing football, and by extension sport in Saudi Arabia?
Every football association faces its own particular set of challenges and, of course, SAFF is no different in this regard. However, in my view, the main challenges which we face today are tied to the exciting and historic moment at which Saudi football now finds itself, with initiatives in place to drive greater footballing development than we have ever seen before. These initiatives will naturally encounter some obstacles along the way, which will require our focus and determination, but above all should be viewed in terms of the opportunities which they promise.
There are a number of areas where we at SAFF have identified real capacity for growth and expansion. Firstly, we are seeking to increase the number of certified Saudi coaches which, at the moment, is quite limited compared to the population of the country. The same is true for high quality football academies, whose number we are working to boost so as to deliver the maximum possible positive impact for grassroots players across our Kingdom. Other areas we have identified for improvement are establishing a presence of Saudi professional footballers in the major international leagues, especially in Europe, as well as significantly increasing the number of Saudi national referees who officiate in the matches of our premier league. In a nutshell, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has been crowned AFC Asian Cup champion three times, participated in five FIFA World Cups and three Olympic Games, we feel that our current place in the FIFA rankings does not reflect our historical achievements and are determined to remedy this.
Is education, therefore, an instrument to better address the challenges in question?
Absolutely. Education and training form the backbone of a strong and inspired nation, especially if it has dynamic and talented individuals. As I have previously mentioned, sport faces many challenges. Education, therefore, provides a platform for solutions and also case studies we need to address these challenges.
What are the three most important sporting moments for you?
My choices are not too difficult to make. The first is Saudi Arabia's victory in the Asian Cup in 1984. I was ten years old at the time. It was this success that pushed me towards football. Then, Saudi Arabia's qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. I was then vice-president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. Finally, our qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I attended this event in person, in Thailand. It was our first major achievement since the appointment of the new Executive Committee of the Federation - of which I am President - in 2019.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years’ time?
I would like to be among the key stakeholders in Saudi football. Indeed, my wish is to play a major role in the development of this sport, so that Saudi Arabia becomes the country of football, the best and most respected in the world.