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.