The thought of ten Southeast Asian countries hosting the 2034 World Cup is as exciting as it is bewildering. Whatever the reaction however, Australia should elbow its way in and make it eleven.
There has long been talk in the region of a joint bid for a future World Cup and on Sunday, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media about the ambitious plan.
"The leaders have the support of the region to host the FIFA World Cup in 2034, if possible," Prayuth said after the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a summit.
"I would like to invite the people of ASEAN to support the soccer associations in their countries in order to realise this dream," he said.
The ASEAN countries are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei. Australia is not a member of that regional body but there is nothing to stop the country having a word with leaders to the north and seeing if it is possible to add one more into the mix.
There’s not much to lose and plenty to win. There is nothing wrong with closer relations with Southeast Asia. The region has had an up and down relationship with Australia over the years but such a partnership could be mutually beneficial
After all, Australia has hosted the Olympics and plenty more major tournaments and events. There is real knowhow in the country in this field, a weak point for Southeast Asia. Even if Australia does not become part of a bid, then a helping hand behind the scenes would be appreciated.
Having Australia on board certainly wouldn’t harm n terms of getting support and ultimately votes overseas. Assuming that most countries would get one group in the expanded World Cup, Australia could even stage the games in cities relatively close to Southeast Asia. It does not have to be Melbourne and/or Sydney.
Much needs to be decided first. The 2002 World Cup was a joint one between South Korea and Japan. While there was a sense at the time of two different tournaments taking place, it worked well and it seemed that most visitors who attended games in both countries enjoyed the change of pace and atmosphere.
There will be three nations --Mexico, the United States and Canada --hosting 48 teams in 2026. Ten or eleven is a little different for obvious reasons and FIFA is not going to give qualification spots to that number of teams. There has already been an idea floated of an ‘ASEAN’ team, one made up of the best players from the region.
Australia is not going to host a 48-team World Cup alone and a joint bid is the only way, for the foreseeable future at least, for Southeast Asia. Past ideas have usually been a little less ambitious with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and sometimes Indonesia, doing the talking.
The thought of the World Cup coming to the most passionate football region in Asia with a population of close to 700 million should be an attractive one. It would give the game and its infrastructure a huge boost and give visitors a great deal of choice about where to go in what is a beautiful part of the world.
Of course, it would be a long shot. Ten, or eleven, is unwieldy but there is some integration in the ASEAN region that makes it a little easier than it sounds.
And then there is China. The world’s most populous country is expected to bid for 2034 or 2038 and would be the clear favourite. Things can change however.
Yet the real benefit may well come just from trying. The very act of bidding and working together can only be good for Southeast Asia as co-operation increases.
The same is true of Australia. Getting involved with the region to the north and working together on the international stage can only be a good thing in the long-term and not just in football.