Asean World Cup idea raises a host of questions

World Cup Trophy

Asean leaders on Sunday “welcomed” plans to jointly host the Fifa World Cup in 2034 – something that has drawn positive and jubilant responses by some; but left the sceptics doubtful and critical of the idea.

Supporters are elated with the announcement as they speak about economic spillover and boosting tourism.

The sceptics, however, scoffed at the idea as the sport in this region remains in the backwaters as monetary woes continue to plague teams and administrators.

Such talk is not new. In 2010, it was reported that Malaysia and Indonesia will discuss the possibility of jointly hosting the World Cup.

Three years later, then Singapore FA president Zainudin Nordin grabbed the headlines after officials from the republic said it planned to lead an Asean bid for the 2030 World Cup.

And in 2017, Indonesia Football Association announced its intention to lead a joint bid for the 2034 World Cup. Ironically, Zainudin’s successor Lim Kia Tong questioned if Singapore would be able to meet the cost and infrastructure needs.

The Malaysian football team qualifying for the World Cup finals was part the “aspiration” of the Barisan Nasional-led 2050 National Transformation (TN50) – a programme that was dismantled by the Pakatan Harapan-led government late last year although some of the ideas were disseminated to the various ministries for further action.

In 2017, Malaysia conducted a feasibility study to see if the country could host the World Cup. The findings of the study were never made public.

“According to the study, it was a feasible idea,” said former Asean Football Federation general secretary Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad.

“Also, the travelling time between Southeast Asian nations is shorter compared to cities in Brazil. Major Asean cities have the infrastructure. But there are many other factors to look at and as for Malaysia, one of it would be legislation … that is to allow Israelis to enter the country.”

Malaysia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel but both nations trade with each other.

Azzuddin pointed out that Malaysia relinquished its right to host the 2017 Fifa Congress after the government refused to grant entry visas to Israeli delegates.

Earlier this year, the International Paralympic Committee stripped Malaysia as hosts of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships after the Home Ministry announced Israeli para swimmers and officials would be barred from entering the country.

Azzuddin also said a joint Asean bid would mean ensuring all member nations are equipped to host the finals. Asean comprises of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei and Cambodia.

However, he said there seems to be a disconnect between the politicians and football administrators, judging by past announcements.

“There have been plans by the political people and there has been talk by the football people. Some politicians reveal their plans without getting the input of the football administrators.

“Out of the 10 nations, perhaps only four – Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia – have the infrastructure and capability to host an event of that magnitude. These nations have hosted major sporting events in the past.

“But they will still need to invest a lot and so will the other Asean nations. Also, it must be decided which nation will represent Asean or will it be an Asean team?”

Azzuddin believes 2034 is “too short of a time” but stressed hosting a World Cup “will generate income for the host nation”.

“It has been proven. Nations that have hosted the World Cup have enjoyed returns,” he added.

“Two nations, perhaps three, organising the World Cup is fine but 10 … it could turn out messy.”