Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Thailand And Indonesia World Cup Bid Faces Major Obstacles

We've been here before, haven't we? Indonesia throwing it's hat in the ring to bid for the World Cup. And we remember what happened last time don't we? Back in 2009 or 2010 the PSSI, with praise ringing in t heir ears after being one of four co hosts for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, then under the leadership of Nurdin Halid, surprised many with its proposed bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Their proposal document was along the lines of a Green World Cup and talked about many cities that didn't have decent stadiums suddenly going on a building spree to get ready for the football bonanza.

Except it soon went tits up when the government refused to back the bid. Ironic isn't it. FIFA talks mightily of government interference as being the worst kind of sin, PSSI was ultimately suspended in 2015 for this very reason, yet back then the lack of any government support killed the bid dead saying the country had other more pressing tasks than holding a football tournament. In fact the government went further with an extraordinary football conference held in Malang, unsanctioned by PSSI and therefore carrying no weight, calling for a major overhaul of the how the game was being run. The President at the time even turned up for the meet and was filmed buying his own ticket to see local heroes Arema play.

That Malang meeting led eventually to the formation of the rebel league the Liga Primer Indonesia and a split in the foundations of football that continue to this day. Bhayangkara lead the Liga 1 today, they didn't exist back in 2010. Look at Liga 3 and there is an Arema side even though another Arema are still active in Liga 1. The absurdity continues with three Persemas, one of them being the temporary glamour club of the LPI, playing in Liga 3.

Today Indonesian football is almost unified and is almost running smoothly, a relative term after the events of the last seven or eight years. New stadiums have been built but the momentum for this construction frenzy has come not from football or ambitious local authorities suddenly taking a world view, but from the far more mundane National Sports Week.

Jakarta's bulbuous Bung Karno Stadium has been closed for several months as it gets touched up ahead of the 2018 Asian Games while there is even talk the long promised Taman BMW stadium for Persija will finally get built in the north of the city finally giving the capital city two stadiums boasting decent capacities. In and around Jakarta the situation is better with new arenas in Cibinong, Bekasi and Cikarang offering 30,000 plus capacity and relatively easy access.

The problem is so many stadiums are not easy to get to and you can imagine FIFA officials, with their lust for personal comfort and convenience, will not take kindly to making the trek out to venues like Si Jalak Harapat in Soreang, Palaran Stadium near Samarinda or Bung Tomo Stadium in Surabaya with it's single narrow lane access. And so many of these venues lack even the most basic of amenities in their immediate vicinity; refreshments come from vendors with food carts and, we are talking World Cup after all, there is not a beer to be found for miles around.

Thailand has its own issues. The media darling of South East Asia is seeing its visitor numbers constantly rise despite the horror tales of lengthy queues at immigration, a continuing military dictatorship and foreigners frequently falling from condos in Pattaya and Phuket. Last year saw more than 32 million arrive and that number doesn't look like falling anytime soon. Imagine where we could be 17 years down the road. Indeed the electricity generating firm seems to thing Thailand could top 100 million visitors a year by 2032, two years before the World Cup. It remains to be seen whether the country's infrastructure, a generation ahead of Indonesia's by the way, can cope with those sorts of numbers without placing a massive strain on the very resources people are flocking to see.

Then there is the weather. Bangkok's rainy season kicks in around the end of April and rainfall rises steadily through May, June and July offering the possibility of seeing Argentina take on Brazil on a pitch resembling a duck pond. And if their is no downpour during play at least the players, and them poor officials, will have their own private downpours amid the 80% humidity. 

Thailand also has its own issues with stadiums. While Bangkok boasts a couple of decent venues there is little else around the country and not every province has a political dynasty with total control like we see in Buriram; a dynasty that faces little dissent. Major centres like Chiang Mai and Phuket would need major investment not only in building stadiums and training facilities but in developing a football culture.

An ASEAN based World Cup would on many levels be a good thing; hell it could even raise awareness in the local game in the respective countries. For it to happen though would need a willingness to work together towards a shared vision for so many different groups with their own agendas and if the last seventeen years are anything to go by that could be the largest obstacle of all. 

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