The big rivals to a Indonesia-Thailand World Cup in 2034

John Duerden John Duerden

John F. Kennedy said once that the United States of America was planning to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade not because it was easy but because it was anything but.

Football leaders in Southeast Asia may not be quite as visionary as the former president but proposing that Indonesia and Thailand should be co-hosts of the 2034 World Cup is an interesting idea.

It will not be easy. Indonesia had a quick shot at 2022. Visiting the bid leaders in an exhibition in Cape Town in 2009, it was obvious that there was little substance or detail behind the attempt. It did not last too much longer and by the time the decisions were all made the following year, few remembered that Indonesia had ever thrown a hat into the ring.

But there is nothing wrong with trying and failing as long as lessons are learned. Having Thailand involved offers something else. Bangkok is a travel hub and is well-known around the world. We are talking about 350 million people in two of the most beautiful countries you will ever see with the passion for the game outranked only by the friendliness of the people.

There would be plenty of work to do but there is time, money and – hopefully – the will. Hosting the tournament would provide some much-needed long-term vision and a target to work towards. It could take the whole region to a new level.

But before the work starts, there are some important matters that need to be dealt with.

And those matters come in the considerable size of China and India. These two giants of the planet account for about a third of its entire population. Both are looking at the possibility of staging the sporting extravaganza.

Hoping for less scary mascots, for the children’s sake…

Assuming that the United States, along with Canada and Mexico get 2026, then Argentina and Uruguay will want the 2030 tournament, the 100-year anniversary. China may have something to say about that and even if 2030 is not successful, then the next edition could well be a target.

China sees hosting the World Cup as a vital part of its planned football development that will take it forward to become a continental and then global powerhouse by 2050. It will not want to wait too long. There some at the Chinese FA who are not completely sold on the idea but most are and, with president Xi Jinping keen to see it happen, then it probably will. Beijing will likely puts its hand up though will do so only if it believes it will win.

India is another giant though one that is sleeping more soundly. The strength and the weakness of any Indian bid is that football is not the number one sport in the country. It makes everything a little more difficult but the potential is huge. Get it right and you could create hundreds of millions of new fans.

These two countries are attractive to FIFA for obvious reasons. FIFA has been active in both countries, especially India. Sepp Blatter was a frequent visitor and helped the country get the 2017 U-17 World Cup. If this goes well, other events will be on their way.

India would have more work to do in terms of infrastructure and stadiums but there would be time and money. China is already there.The Middle Kingdom is one of the few countries in the world that could host a 48-nation World Cup right now. Sporting facilities are world-class Bidding for the 2023 Asian Cup, which will likely be successful, is another step towards the big one.

Could this be a sight in Jakarta & Bangkok come 2034?

Historically, South-east Asia has been a bridge between India to the west and China to the east. In terms of the World Cup, leaders at the ASEAN Football Federation are going to have to talk to their neighbours and find out what their intentions are.

The most difficult part of the whole bid is not going to be building stadiums and getting everything ready to host the biggest sporting competition on the planet. It would be overcoming the challenge of near rivals.

If India and China throw their hats into the ring, then leaders in Indonesia and Thailand are really going to have to come up with something special to elbow their way into contention.

China and India have narratives that are hard to compete with: helping soon-to-be number one economy become something comparable on the field, with all the commercial benefits that could bring, and turning a billion cricket fans on to football.

Bangkok and Jakarta have to find their own unique selling points, they need an exciting message, otherwise China and India will be too hard to catch.