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Commentary: Singapore did not lose its chance to co-host 2034 World Cup, it never had one

SINGAPORE: News last week that Australia had dropped out of the bidding process for the 2034 World Cup came as no surprise to anyone following the proceedings. Australia’s 11th-hour pull-out left Saudi Arabia as the lone candidate for the World Cup that really had been long in the bag for them.

That Saudi Arabia had designs to host the World Cup comes as no surprise. They have shown their footballing ambitions with aggressive moves in recent years to lure the world’s best players to their domestic league, spearheaded by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and to a lesser extent by the likes of former Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson and Brazilian star Neymar.

Qatar’s historic World Cup last year – with a scoring record of 172 goals – showed in no uncertain terms that the world’s biggest football tournament can most definitely be held in the Middle East, hostile climate notwithstanding. As the first in the region to hold the mega event, Qatar spared no expense, spending US$220 billion over a dozen years to build roads, stadiums and hotels, and a completely new rail network.

With Saudi Arabia’s untold wealth, who can stop them if they really, really want to host the World Cup? 

Certainly not FIFA who, by ensuring that the 2030 World Cup will be played on three continents – South America, Africa and Europe – cleared the path for the World Cup’s return to Asia as quickly as 2034 and the massive payday that beckons for football’s world governing body.


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When FIFA opened the bidding on Oct 4, it took Saudi Arabia mere minutes to lodge their interest to host the tournament. It was only a week later that Indonesia made known their intention for a joint bid with Australia, ostensibly roping in Southeast Asian neighbours Malaysia and Singapore.

News of this bid received lukewarm response from Malaysian and Singapore football fans, who proved savvier than most give them credit for. Many knew the Saudi Arabian bid was fait accompli, and this “new” bid from Indonesia and Australia was a mere distraction.

Many were unconvinced by the “opportunity” to have the World Cup in their own backyards, recognising this as a mere mirage.

In fact, some netizens in Singapore were more concerned about cost overruns should the event be co-hosted by the island nation, dredging up the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as an example of a budget gone haywire from a projected S$104 million (US$76.6 million) to a final bill of S$387 million.

Truth be told, Australia was never in the running, not with Indonesia as its partner anyway. Let’s not forget Indonesia put FIFA in a bind in March with its refusal to host Israel in the Under-20 World Cup, forcing a last-minute switch to Argentina and potential sanctions for the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI).

No one with long memory would have taken seriously the announcement on Oct 14 by PSSI president Erick Thohir that a rival bid to Saudi Arabia was being mulled when the response from the rest of the Asian Football Confederation nations in the preceding week had been nothing less than laudatory for the Saudi Arabian bid.

And indeed, the rug pull happened a week later when PSSI fell in with the rest of Asian nations in announcing its support for Saudi Arabia, while still purportedly a partner with Australia in the dead-in-water rival bid, a betrayal that would have hit hard for Australia.

Having successfully co-hosted the Women’s World Cup this year with New Zealand, Australia would be right in thinking it had done enough to prove its hosting capabilities, especially after the disastrous and costly bid in 2010 for the 2022 Men’s World Cup that eventually went to Qatar.

That Australian bid in 2010 cost A$46 million (US$30 million), with the nation getting only one vote in the final reckoning, and it was a lesson well learnt that Australia wisely chose to back out of the 2034 bid having been given some 25 days to cull together some form of a bid with unlikely and, as it turned out, unreliable partners.


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So did Singapore and Southeast Asia really lose its best opportunity to host football’s blue riband event? The answer begets a pertinent question: “Was this a genuine opportunity?”

The answer is an emphatic “no”. After Saudi Arabia announced its interest, there was really no room for a rival bid of any kind.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had met in 2019 to discuss the possibility of a future joint bid for the World Cup, but nothing concrete came out of that.

The Football Association of Malaysia had vehemently denied reports of a joint bid, adding that they had no intentions of bidding to host the World Cup “anytime soon”. The Football Association of Singapore did not respond to media queries about the joint bid, signalling that they perhaps didn’t know much about it or was not willing to share their thoughts on a bid where they were mere passengers.

There is no doubting the hosting capabilities of both Malaysia and Singapore, the former having hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games quite successfully and the latter having a proper state-of-the-art facility in the form of the S$1.33 billion Sports Hub simply crying out to host a major event.

But the football in both countries isn’t what you would term world class. Malaysia is 147th in the FIFA World Rankings, while Singapore is at 159. The state of Singapore football is such that there is a sweepstakes running to predict the goal-difference for Singapore in their upcoming six World and Asian Cup qualifiers against China, Thailand and South Korea. Most predictions are leaning towards larger numbers.


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This is not the time for Singapore to host the World Cup, not when it would have done little to improve the pitiful state of football for the island nation.

Singapore’s dreams of getting to the World Cup is as distant as putting a Singaporean on the moon – and one can argue the latter is a more distinct possibility given how wealthy it is and the fact that one can pay for passage into space these days.

Perhaps if the ASEAN nations really come together to work on a proper joint bid, we might see the World Cup being hosted in these parts. That would be in the next cycle of 12 or 16 years when Asia once again gets the opportunity to host this grand footballing event. In the meantime, we shall stay mere spectators. 

Philip Goh is a former TODAY Deputy Sports Editor and 938LIVE Sports Editor who continues to work in the sports industry.

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