This appears in the Monday, July 21, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.
Bringing the World Cup to Southeast Asia?
by rick olivares pic from FIFA
While being interviewed over DZMM last Saturday about the conclusion of the 2014 World Cup, host Gretchen Fulido asked if I was going through any post-tourney hangover.
I nodded in agreement. While I clearly miss the riveting matches that have captivated an entire planet, I, like my fellow journalists, have moved on to other things as the world of sports never sleeps. However, one thing keeps coming back to me.
In fact, I thought about this since news broke out that Qatar was awarded the hosting rights for 2022.
If FIFA could award the United States with the hosting rights in 1994 even when they had no professional league and no stadia designed specifically for the sport, if the games could be played simultaneously in Japan and Korea in 2002, and if Qatar could be awarded the hosting rights eight years from now, why not Southeast Asia?
I realize that the logistical nightmare of 2002 saw FIFA pass a law against countries co-hosting the World Cup but if they can award rather controversially the rights to Qatar (think of the heat alone) and even Brazil to a certain extent why can’t they learn from the mistakes of 2002 and insist upon certain protocol for an even-better co-hosted World Cup?
If it is FIFA’s goal to also grow the sport then Southeast Asia is a ripe destination. There are an estimated 618 million people living in the 11 countries within its time zone (not counting Australia that is in the Oceania zone but has recently been a part of the Asean Football Federation or AFF).
If a host country has to participate in the World Cup, in the event of a massive co-hosting effort, who will represent the region? Make it the most recent champion of the AFF Suzuki Cup that is pretty much the championship for the region.
There are 12 member countries in the AFF – newest member Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam. Of that number only Australia and the Philippines aren’t considered footballing nations although they have leagues and a growing scene (although it is far more developed in the former).
European leagues (and to some extent, South American leagues) are shown regularly on television. A few countries have channels devoted only to football. It’s a football-mad region.
Three of those countries made the Top 10 Most PopularTourist Destinations of 2013 as Thailand topped the list while Singapore and Malaysia came in at fourth and eighth sports respectively. English is widely spoken in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Venue-wise, Southeast Asia has quite a few that notwithstanding repairs and improvement, should pass FIFA standards.
Thailand has the 49,000-plus seater Rajamangala Stadium.
Malaysia has several stadia with larger seating capacities – the famous Bukit Jalil that can seat up over 87,000. There’s the Shah Alam Stadium that seats close to 70,000. The Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium can fit in 50,000 people. And Malaysia has five more arenas that has seat 40,000 people.
The new National Stadium in Kallang, Singapore that opened exactly three weeks ago has a 55,000 capacity.
My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi can seat over 40,000 people.
The Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh can seat over 50,000 and although it has seen better days, I am sure it can be refurbished for the games just as the Maracaña was in Brazil.
Indonesia has three stadiums with over 50,000 seating capacity – the main one, the Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta that can hold close to 90,000 people. And there are the Palaran and Gelora Bung Tomo stadiums that seat 65,000 and 50,000 respectively.
In the Philippines, there’s the new Philippine Arena in Bulacan that can seat over 50,000 people.
Australia is eliminated from the list because of the travel and change in time zones.
Cross checking the stadia used in Brazil, there were several venues that seated around 42,000-plus people – the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, the Arena da Baixada in Curtiba, Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, and Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
Having pointed that out, Southeast Asia has several countries that have the facilities to host the eight group stages. And when the games progress to the knockout stages, that number should logically shrink to a few with the finals and semifinals going to one country that should pass all the FIFA standards. Logically and realistically, that will either go to Indonesia or Malaysia.
Sure it will require massive coordination that could rival the Allied Invasion of Europe but as FIFA’s long-time sponsor adidas is wont to say, “Impossible is nothing.” And I believe that it is more than just a snazzy tagline. It can be done.
And what a boost for the sport will it be if it’s held in the region.
It might be far-fetched at this point, the dream of the World Cup coming to Southeast Asia, but I’ll go back to that point, if it can be awarded to Qatar then why not in this region?
Hopefully, this can be a reality in our lifetime.