Indonesia Moots Possible World Cup Bid With Australia, Malaysia, Singapore

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Indonesia Moots Possible World Cup Bid With Australia, Malaysia, Singapore

Saudi Arabia is currently favored to host the soccer tournament in 2034.

Indonesia Moots Possible World Cup Bid With Australia, Malaysia, Singapore

A replica of the FIFA World Cup Trophy outside the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, November 11, 2022.

Credit: Depositphotos

Indonesia has entered discussions with Australia about a possible joint bid to host the 2034 soccer World Cup along with Malaysia and Singapore, the president of the country’s football federation said yesterday.

According to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, Erick Thohir, president of the Football Association of Indonesia and minister for state-owned enterprises, said that the nations could mount a challenge to Saudi Arabia, which is the current favorite to host the 2034 tournament.

“We are discussing [a bid] with Australia,” the Herald quoted Thohir as saying. “When I visited Malaysia and Singapore both countries expressed interest to join Indonesia and Australia.”

Last week, soccer’s world governing body FIFA announced that Spain, Morocco, and Portugal would host the 2030 World Cup, in a controversial arrangement in which Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina would stage the opening games. It then invited bids for the 2034 tournament, which has been reserved for nations from Asia and Oceania.

Within days of the 2030 announcement, Saudi Arabia formally submitted to FIFA its bid to host the 2034 World Cup, in the hopes of replicating the lavish tournament hosted by Qatar last year. Yasser Al Misehal, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said that his nation was “extremely committed to presenting the most competitive bid possible that will also help unite the world through football” and that “the entire Asian football family will stand united in support.”

Australia has been weighing up a possible challenge to Saudi Arabia’s bid, but according to the Herald report, has been reluctant after spending $46 million on its bid for the 2022 tournament, which it ultimately lost to Qatar. For this reason, a joint bid with three important Southeast Asian neighbors might encourage it to challenge the Saudi bid.

In some ways, a joint bid would make sense for all four nations. Australia would not have to bear the financial burden alone, and a co-hosting arrangement would lessen the challenge of fitting a World Cup around the country’s other sporting events, particularly the popular Australian Football League. It also might represent the best chance that any Southeast Asian nations have to host a World Cup. While the possibility of a joint bid by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been raised periodically over the past decade, it is hard to see this getting off the ground given the poor infrastructure and political instability in some member states.

Australia’s experience in mounting world-class sporting events and the potential access to ASEAN’s large market of mad soccer fans could conceivably complement each other well.

Given that Qatar hosted the 2022 tournament, Thohir, a wealthy businessperson and former owner of the Italian club Inter Milan and the United States Major League Soccer team DC United, conjectured that it might be too soon for the World Cup to return to the Middle East. “We are quite strong,” he said, according to the Herald’s report. “I think FIFA will see that the Middle East area has been the host with Qatar last year. Japan and Korea have been hosts too. I am sure FIFA will try other countries.”

He added, “The potential to win if we join with Australia, Malaysia and Singapore is bigger too.”

But even leaving aside the challenge of overcoming the huge sums of money that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will throw at FIFA in order to “convince” it of the merits of Riyadh’s bid, any Indonesian bid will face a number of challenges.

Indonesia would need to satisfy FIFA that it could ensure the safety of large crowds, after the crowd crush after a match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java left 135 people dead, one of the world’s worst sporting disasters. Then, in March of this year, Indonesia was stripped of the Under-20 World Cup just weeks ahead of the opening match after two politicians called for Israel to be banned from the competition. (The tournament ended up being held in Argentina.) While Israel has only qualified for the World Cup once – in 1970 – the incident would certainly make FIFA officials think twice, given their dim view of political interference in soccer affairs.

There is also the fact that the hosting nations gain automatic qualification to the tournament. Since it was allowed to compete as part of the Asian Confederation, Australia has become a regular participant in the World Cup, participating in the past five tournaments, Indonesia has only ever played the World Cup once, in 1938, when it competed as the Dutch East Indies. Singapore and Malaysia have never qualified.

However, were the four countries to surmount all of the various obstacles and win the World Cup, it would be a landmark event for the region and its legions of mad soccer fans. It would likely also help to cement relations between Australia and its three closest, and arguably most important, Southeast Asian neighbors, creating some sense of a shared regional identity.

The deadline for the submission of bids is October 31.