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Sally at Suncorp Stadium

Sally is UQ Sport’s Business Development Manager. In October last year, she was offered a football fan’s dream job to work at the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015. 

This once in a lifetime opportunity was too good to miss, so sadly she left us for a short while. But with all the excitement over and Australia as the Cup champions, she’s back and eager to share her insider’s view of being involved in this major world sport event.

So what does a Protocol Manager do you may be wondering?

Well Sally was right in the thick of things. As Protocol Manager, she was responsible for overseeing all VIP and VVIP (and even VVVIP) visits, meetings and events. Sounds like scary stuff, but Sally met some incredibly interesting and influential people. She attended all the Brisbane-based games and got to experience first-hand the planning and effort that goes in to hosting an event on the world stage.

Over to Sal…

What made you want to be involved with the Asian Cup?

“I am extremely passionate about football and it has always been my dream to work within the sport. I originally applied to be a volunteer and then was fortunate enough to be offered a permanent paid role as Protocol Manager for Brisbane.”

What was it like meeting the players?

“I met a few players from Australia, Jordan and UAE. All of the players I talked to were very polite, courteous and extremely excited to be part of the AFC Asian Cup.”

Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar and Socceroo player) and Michael Brown (LOC CEO) at the players' bench launch

Who else did you meet while working at the tournament?

“In my role as Protocol Manager, I was responsible for looking after VIPs, VVIPs and VVVIPs; as a result, I met a lot of ‘important people’ including Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (Asian Football Confederation President),  Prince Ali bin al Hussein  (Prince of Jordan), His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah, (Prince of Saudi Arabia), His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah Shah (Prince of Malaysia and Asian Football Confederation Vice President), Frank Lowy AC (Football Federation Australia Chairman) His Excellency, the honourable Paul de Jersey (Queensland Governor) and Graham Quirk (Lord Mayor of Brisbane).”

Frank Lowy AC (FFA Chairman) and other VVIPs in the VVIP lounge for the Quarter Final (Australia vs China)
Mark Bosnich (ex Socceroo goal keeper and FOX sports presenter) at the official AFC Asian Cup Trophy Tour

Was it a challenge coordinating VIPs from different countries and cultures?

“The cultures of the participating nations meant there were some distinctive services that we had to provide. For example, we had to arrange for a prayer room in both the VIP and VVIP lounges. Each prayer room had a sign with the direction of Mecca on the ceiling, prayer mats, male and female designated areas and facilities close by to enable people to wash their feet before they prayed. We also provided a full Halal menu with no alcohol in any food item and strictly no pork. Some VVIPs also preferred to be welcomed and greeted by males due to their culture.”

VVIP prayer room

Were there any unique requests made by VIPs during the event?

“Several! I won’t go into too much detail or name any names! Some of the unique requests included carrot juice on tap, extremely expensive Scotch, chairs and tables in the prayer room, raising and moving seats by millimetres and wait for it…the one that made me think the world had gone mad…. watering the plants in the VIP lounges with mineral water….yes mineral water, not tap water!”

Were there any changes made to Brisbane stadium to accommodate the VIPs?

“A number of changes took place in a very short period of time; however, we had to wait until Brisbane Roar played their final home match on 30 December 2014. From 31 December, we gained exclusive access to the stadium which gave our overlay team only 10 days to make all the necessary changes before the first Asian Cup match. The VVIP area required a new tribune of 100 seats which presented a huge challenge as there are strict standards relating to the height of seats, the leg room and the sight line for the VVIPs that sit in these seats.

Both the VIP and VVIP lounges were themed with an Australian feel with items such as didgeridoos and aboriginal art pieces. Furthermore, the venue needed to be 100% “clean” which meant every single Suncorp sign and any other commercial sign in the stadium had to be removed or covered.”

Were you able to go ‘behind the scenes’ at the games?

“Yes – as Protocol Manager I was responsible for escorting VVIPs to the dressing rooms post match and then back to the VVIP lounge. Only the VVIPs could enter the dressing rooms though. I also met teams on arrival at the international and domestic airports. I had full accreditation which entitled me to ‘access all areas’.”

The Socceroos arriving at Brisbane Domestic Airport
Teams and officials entry to dressing rooms and the pitch

What was the tournament highlight for you?

“Seeing Australia lift the trophy on home soil in Sydney in front of 76,000 fans was a fairy tale ending; the perfect finish to an incredible journey. You couldn’t have written a better script if you tried.

Many people doubted the tournament at the start, but with 680,000 fans watching the games live, almost a billion people watching the games China played, eight sell outs and with three million people in Australia watching the final, I think it is clear to see why the AFC President described the AFC Asian Cup 2015 in Australia as the best Asian Cup ever.”

Fireworks in Sydney as Australia are announced the champions of Asia

Who do you think was the best team other than Australia?

“I was impressed with the level of football on display throughout the tournament. All the teams showcased the beautiful round ball game in a positive way. Teams certainly didn’t disappoint and there were several outstanding performances. It’s hard to pick just a few, but the teams that shone for me are Japan, Iran, Iraq, UAE and South Korea.”

Who do you barrack for in football?

“As you can probably tell, I love football more than most things. I am originally from England and I am one of the rare few that support their local team. I am proud to be a massive Brighton and Hove Albion fan. I have travelled around the world to many big sport events including the World Cups in Brazil and Germany and Euro 2004 in Portugal. I feel very proud to have been involved in the Asian Cup and the memories will stay with me forever; a truly unforgettable experience.”