The news that Australia and Indonesia have had discussions over a joint bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup has been met with mixed reactions.
Some are outraged that FFA would countenance the idea of throwing themselves at the mercy of a FIFA bidding process again, others think we have more pressing issues to deal with on the home front, and others still, incredibly, can’t see the benefit of a joint bid with one of the biggest countries in the world, instead suggesting a joint bid with one of the smallest, New Zealand, would make more sense.
The first thing that needs to be said is that, despite some reports, the FFA and Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) haven’t launched a bid to host the World Cup; they’ve merely had discussions, which are still ongoing.
There is still a lot of water to flow under a lot of bridges before this even gets to the point of a formal application, and let’s not forget that the Thai Prime Minister announced last week at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok the desire for an ASEAN bid encompassing all 10 ASEAN nations. How that impacts upon the ongoing discussions between Australia and Indonesia remains to be seen.
We will only know in the fullness of time whether anything comes from these discussions, and the elephant in the room is China, who have flagged their intention to bid for either the 2030 or 2034 World Cup.
Make no mistake, FIFA will jump the moment China puts up its hand. They will host the next World Cup in Asia.
Despite that, the FFA should absolutely continue to explore the idea of a joint bid with Indonesia. It makes so much sense on a lot of levels and is mutually beneficial for both parties.
Indonesia is the biggest sleeping giant in Asia, arguably in the world.
It has a passion for football unlike almost any other country in Asia and is the world’s fourth biggest country by population, coming in at 270 million. The raw ingredients are there for Indonesia to be a giant of Asian football, but for a lot of reasons that potential has never been realised.
The game in Indonesia has been beset by corruption, incompetence and a lack of professionalism. Australia – I speak generally, not just about FFA – has a strong reputation around the world as a leader in sports administration. We have leaders of the industry around the world in a lot of sports, and what Indonesia lacks in that respect Australia can offer in spades.
On the flip side, while Australia may have the infrastructure and know-how, it lacks scale. At just 25 million people, Australia is a mere minnow and on its own will always struggle to match what others can, especially commercially. And let’s be honest, with a 48-team World Cup Australia is going to struggle to be able to present enough cities and stadiums, not to mention enough of a commercial return, to host a tournament.
But combined with Indonesia and maybe other ASEAN countries Australia can present a far more compelling case both commercially and logistically.
The partnership makes perfect sense in that respect. Where one has a weakness, another has strength, and together that makes any potential bid a far stronger prospect.
People may argue that the distance between the two countries is too vast. There is no denying that’s the case, but it’s not exactly close between Canada and Mexico or from the east to the west coach of the United States either.
The PSSI raised this as the most recent ASEAN Football Federation council meeting in Laos last week, advising the rest of the AFF membership that they intend to continue moving forward on this process with Australia.
And that is the biggest and most significant thing to come from this – Indonesia wants to work with Australia. And not just the PSSI, but also the Indonesian government, who have thrown their full support behind this bid. You’d hope that as discussions progress, the Australian government will do likewise. They’d be foolish not to.
Australia has long been accused of not doing enough to engage and integrate themselves with the rest of Asia, and while it’s an accusation that had merit in the early years of our membership of Asian Football Confederation, in recent years the FFA has done a mountain of work, mostly behind the scenes, to build those relationships, especially within ASEAN, and this is the end result.
It’s hard to imagine a joint bid would have been a realistic option five or ten years ago, so the FFA deserve credit for their work over that time in building relationships. It’s tireless work that often goes unnoticed, but the results can be game changing.
Of course the process still has a long way to go. These are discussions still in their infancy. There is an entire bidding process for 2030 to go through first, and if China bids for that, it may make this whole process redundant – unless FIFA change their rules on confederations hosting back-to-back World Cups, which would be unlikely. Not to mention the small matter of the current bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
But if we assume for a moment the process does continue through to a full bid and the only thing that comes from it is a stronger, closer, more functional and beneficial relationship between Australia and Indonesia and ASEAN more broadly, then it, even without a World Cup to show for it, will have been worth it.