An ASEAN World Cup Bid in 2030 Is Not a Vietnamese Bid in 2010

By Fuadi Piitsuwan, Adjunct Research Fellow, Georgetown University

Ben Bland, the Hanoi correspondent for the Financial Times, on Tuesday implied on FT’s Beyond Brics blog that Vietnam’s recent withdrawal from the bidding to host the women’s Under-20 World Cup in 2012 shows that ASEAN’s dream to bid for the 2030 World Cup could meet the same fate. This logic contains a few flaws.  But first let’s step back a little bit.

The notion of ASEAN bidding for the World Cup in 2030 originated from a realization that soccer is a strongly shared passion among Southeast Asians. The critical question that ASEAN leaders are trying to answer is: how do we turn this common passion into a positive force? The answer to this question is to set a long term goal of submitting a bid to host the World Cup in 2030, two decades from now. With the common passion we share, bidding to host the famous tournament could enable new roads, hi-speed trains, better airports, and increased flight routes and connectivity both at the governmental and people-to-people levels. Moreover, we would need to put aside our differences and overcome existing grievances in pursuit of a tangible goal that everyone wants to happen—this is invaluable to our community building effort.

The “process” of bid submission is an end in itself. Winning the bid would be a bonus. In order for ASEAN to be competitive when FIFA begins the selection process, probably a decade from now, we need expedite our integration, improve our infrastructure and, of course, our people need to want it badly enough.

That is the underlying strategic motive for the bid. Mr. Bland’s post, on the other hand, focuses on the technical side of the bid. Mr. Bland says that “the poor supporting infrastructure for the game suggests that politicians ought to curb their enthusiasm for such pie-in-the-sky schemes.” The author drew his conclusion from today’s context without taking into account the fact that the World Cup in 2030 is almost two decades away.

We can do a lot in the next two decades, as we have done in the past. ASEAN’s goal to create a single market only originated in 1997, when the idea was adopted in Kuala Lumpur. Originally called ASEAN Vision 2020, our leaders expedited the goal to create the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. In just seventeen years, we will have gone from concept to implementation. We will have another fifteen years, until 2030, to perfect the system and to lay the framework that would enable us to operate like a single-country host. In the intervening years, better infrastructure will be built. More cities will be connected through multiple modes of transportation. Our soccer teams will become more competitive. Asean’s population will grow to close to one billion.

Moreover, Mr. Bland fails to recognize that this is a collaborative effort of ASEAN countries—not that of just one country, like Vietnam’s failed Women’s Under-20 bid. If ASEAN gets to host the World Cup, the financial burden will be spread among multiple host countries. There is no ASEAN country that can take on this herculean task by itself. That is precisely why the idea of a collaborative bid has been proposed.

In the end, how many ASEAN countries participate in the bid would depend on two questions.  1) How many countries feel integrated enough to operate seamlessly as a host? Despite our goal to establish the AEC in 2015, some countries will be better integrated than others. 2) How many countries can assume the financial burden of hosting the world’s most watched sport event? Despite the fact that cost would be shared among the host countries, not all ASEAN countries would be able to take on this extra financial responsibility. Time is on our side—we don’t have to decide now. Let’s enjoy the euphoria that is already generating much debate among the people of ASEAN, allowing them to connect and sharing ideas, and fostering a sense of ASEAN identity for a few more years.

Photo by Haikeu, used under a Creative Commons license.


2 comments for “An ASEAN World Cup Bid in 2030 Is Not a Vietnamese Bid in 2010

  1. February 11, 2011 at 10:08

    Hi Fuadi,

    I think you make some very fair points about the rapid pace with which ASEAN has been developing, particularly over the last few years. While there’s still much to do if ASEAN is to become a unified production base, there have clearly been some very positive steps taken of late, including the trade agreement with China.

    I, for one, would very much enjoy watching a World Cup in Southeast Asia. Who wouldn’t lick their lips at the prospect of Iran playing North Korea in Myanmar?

    However, the 2030 World Cup ambition is not only unrealistic, it is also worryingly misguided.

    From Indonesia to Laos, Southeast Asian governments love to promote mega projects. But while such endeavours massage the egos of the region’s mostly less-than-democratic rulers and line the pockets of contractors, cronies and assorted hangers-on, they rarely deliver much for their people.

    Having observed the less-than-ideal state of domestic football in Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, it seems that what the game needs is grass roots investment in public pitches, youth training facilities and improved coaching – not huge, white elephant stadiums that will lie fallow after the tournament.

    Surely the best way to satisfy the people’s football ambitions in Southeast Asia is to give them better sports facilities, improve domestic leagues and train a new generation of skilful players.

    Not only is the ASEAN 2030 World Cup dream wrong-headed, it is also totally impractical. Although the World cup may be 19 years away, the bidding process is probably less than 10 years away and I can’t imagine that enough of myriad states that make up ASEAN will be able come to together in that time frame and provide the strict government guarantees that FIFA requires.



  2. Fuadi
    February 11, 2011 at 13:57

    Ben, thanks for taking interest.

    But we are going to get all these: “grassroots investment in public pitches, youth training facilities and improved coaching….better sports facilities, improve domestic leagues and train a new generation of skilful players” if we are going ahead with the bid. Hosting the world cup is a lot more than just building big stadiums. Our teams need to be improved. There is nothing wrong with investing in kids who’re five years old now with hope that they could perform in the world cup in their home country (or elsewhere) in 2030. In order to stand a chance with FIFA, we need to be committed to develop local soccer scene. With an event as grand as the World Cup in 2030 as goal, the chance for such commitment from ASEAN governments would be much higher.

    You are thinking that bidding for the world cup is a zero sum game for soccer development in Southeast Asia. Before we proceed further, ASEAN-wide league would have to be formed. Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia, who is running the ASEAN Basketball League is very serious about pushing for the “ASEAN Super League” for soccer. This should be very good for soccer development in ASEAN and it will happen faster with the goal of ASEAN to bid for the World Cup host.

    There are many building blocks that we would need put together before our bid dream becomes viable. Whether we get there or not remains to be seen. But at least I think we should try. Even if in the end we didn’t get selected, we would still end up with many rewards along the way. The fact that you chose to cover this issue on FT is already one of those rewards.

    – Fuadi

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