ASEAN’s planned bid for the World Cup in 2030 has already become one of the biggest news items of its 43-year-old history. It has already generated a tsunami-like hype and public interest at all levels within the region of 600 million football-obsessed population.
Malaysia has been tasked to prepare a detailed proposal for the bid which will be presented to ASEAN leaders for a final decision during the May 7-8 summit in Indonesia. Albeit the excitement and hullabaloo that comes with it, every football insider understands the difficulty of ASEAN’s plan as it would need a miracle for an intergovernmental organization to host a World Cup. The grouping has to convince the FIFA officials that it can do so under the ASEAN brand. As such, FIFA has to change its rules. It did so when Japan and South Korea became the multiple hosts of the 2002 game.
Obviously, more inputs are needed to fine-tune the proposal and subsequent campaigns, which ASEAN has the luxury of time of up to 10 years to craft. Brazil will host the 2014 followed by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. For the time being, the 2026 host is wide open but a bid from Asian countries is not possible due to the FIFA’s restriction of having the host from the same region twice in a row.
If this ambitious plan goes ahead, ASEAN members have to do millions of things before they could be ready to submit the joint bid. ASEAN would need another master plan ― something likes ASEAN Football’s Connectivity. It would involve the collaboration and cooperation from all member countries, which could include East Timor, in planning, financing, building new pitches, new transportation networks, trainings and other hordes of issues related to football and its industries.
But as the first step, ASEAN members have to agree on the terms of references to choose among themselves countries that are most suitable to beat other competitors in 2030. Argentina and Uruguay already announced their joint bid last year. Other pairs include Spain and Portugal as well as the Netherlands and Belgium. China has already made known its attention to go for a similar aim after its success of hosting the Olympic Games in 2008 and the Asian Games in 2010.
ASEAN has 10 members with different political systems and economic development. As far as football is concerned, they also have different styles of playing and audience types. Within ASEAN, several members including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand stand out as the potential hosts. However, ASEAN would require a term of reference to pick up the successful candidates. This first hurdle must be crossed at the earliest time to allow other procedures and preparations to proceed.
Without doubt, Thailand is enthusiastic to play one of the hosts. In the past years, several attempts were made by different governments but nothing really materialized. When Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij proposed that ASEAN bid for the World Cup last year in Kuala Lumpur, he did not think for a minute that ASEAN would take up the idea so quickly a few months later. Last July in Hanoi, Malaysia was first to propose the idea but none including the media paid any attention. Then, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman raised it again at the Lombok retreat. Suddenly, the ASEAN foreign ministers got hooked.
The next hurdle is to identify who will play for the so-called ASEAN team. There are ways to select the best team or best players, depending on the terms of reference. Given the national pride associated with the game, it is difficult for now to envisage the best national team, whichever it is, to play on behalf of ASEAN as a whole. That kind of strong sense of belonging or identity has not yet been embedded in the citizens of ASEAN member states unless there is a deliberate plan to do so now. Otherwise, the best players in various positions could be pooled from all national teams within ASEAN. That way, all-star ASEAN teams with alternate players could be assembled and practice together.
By all means, it is smart for ASEAN to bid for the World Cup. It is a good distraction from domestic problems for the football crazed citizens. First of all, it immediately gives the sense of common purpose of ASEAN in addition to the 2015 ASEAN Community, which is less than 1449 days away. Progress on region-wide football activities could be more tangible than the efforts of ASEAN community-building schemes.
The joint bid would require all member countries to work together closely with a clear division of labor and responsibilities. So far, no country has opposed to the project, which can accelerate the grouping’s integration and attract millions of tourists. The plan would cast ASEAN in a good light as last year’s effort to form common positions on global issues did not succeed.
With the world’s most popular sport in the middle of the scheme of things, ASEAN can fulfill its long-standing slogan of creating people-oriented activities. At the current stage, it can circumvent other more sensitive programs such as further engagement with civil society organizations or protection of human rights.
It would also promote the football professionalism among ASEAN players to improve their skills and techniques. With a common sport platform, it will be easier for the dialogue partners to provide further assistance in training and sport managements. South Africa, which successfully hosted 2010 World Cup, has already come forward to offer assistance, whatever that might be.
Eventually, when the time comes, it does not matter whether ASEAN wins or not. Only heaven knows. After all, it is another two decades away. What counts the most today is the process which ASEAN is willing to go through that would make a more united Asean.
By Kavi Chongkittavorn
Kavi Chongkittavorn is an assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group in Bangkok. ― Ed.
(The Nation/Asia News Network)