Should Asean nations jointly co-host the 2034 World Cup? — Jeen Ann Young

JUNE 24 — In the recent 34th Asean Summit held in Bangkok, one of the issues that was discussed was a joint Asean bid to jointly host the Fifa World Cup in 2034, which would involve countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

This idea had previously been proposed in 2011, where the former Football Association of Singapore President stated that the proposal had been made at an Asean Foreign Ministers meeting.

This news no doubt will be very much welcomed by Asean citizens, where football is played regularly at grassroots and professional levels.

No doubt that hosting the World Cup will bring positive impacts socioculturally, economically and the general development of a country as a whole, however it has to be qualified by the negative impacts and the huge costs that might follow.

This article shall examine the impact of hosting the World Cup in terms of the 4 criteria listed above, namely socially, culturally, economically and the general development of a country as a whole.

In terms of the general development of a country as a whole, hosting a successful World Cup would help grow and strengthen the reputation of the country. Besides that, it would also leave behind various infrastructure that could be utilized by the country to host sporting events.

This could be seen in the case of the London Stadium, where it was built for the 2012 Olympic Games and after the event it was rented out to West Ham United.

It would also boost development of important infrastructure, such as stronger transportation links and developing previously undeveloped areas.

This could be seen in terms of Stratford in London, where it was previously in economic decline which was reversed by the 2012 Summer Olympics, where the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in Stratford served as the main venue of the Summer Olympics, and after the Games it was used by West Ham and British Athletics.

A hotel and one of the largest shopping malls in Europe were built in that area as well. This development coupled with an upgrade project of the railway tracks, helped develop the area that was previously untouched.

It is obvious that hosting a major sporting event, be it the Olympics or the World Cup would have positive impact on the general development of a country as a whole.

Despite the success story of how the infrastructure built for the 2012 Olympic Games is put to good use, more often than not, the stadiums built are abandoned, under-utilised or used for projects that are not exactly fit for the purpose of the stadiums and it is a huge waste of money.

One example is the Estadio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha, Brasília in Brazil, which hosted the 3rd place playoff for the 2014 World Cup is currently used as a bus parking lot. This exemplifies how a brand new stadium in Brazil is wasted as it does not provide any value to the country after the World Cup.

Another example is the Cape Town Stadium in South Africa which hosted 8 matches in the 2010 World Cup is available for private functions, birthday parties, weddings and anniversaries.

This shows how under-utilised the stadium is, as it has fallen from the majestic heights of hosting World Cup games, to being a birthday party venue.

The economic impact of hosting the World Cup is the most important criteria that has to be considered.

One of the most obvious benefits, which is discussed above is the creation of new infrastructure and improvement of current facilities.

For example, Russia had created more than 800 hectares of parks and green zones throughout the country, and they have also upgraded power stations and new hotels to cope with the additional demand during the World Cup.

It is absolutely beneficial to the Russian citizens as these infrastructures are used after the World Cup and not just a white elephant.

Similarly in Asean, the upgraded infrastructure could provide much needed electricity and water to the poorer areas. Economically speaking, hosting the World Cup is a sound investment when looked at from this angle.

Besides that, the World Cup in Russia is predicted to increase 570,000 international fans, and visiting fans are estimated to spend around US$5,000-US$8,000 which would contribute an additional US$2.5-US$4 billion.

It is also estimated that the countries which host certain events enjoy an increased tourist flow of approximately 25 per cent the following year. This large influx of tourists and consumption would generate large amount of income for Asean countries if they decide to host the World Cup.

It would account for almost 1.2 per cent in GDP growth for Asean countries, and this additional income could then be used to further develop the Asean region as a whole.

The World Cup would create new jobs in the construction, service, transport and trade sectors. In preparation of the World Cup in Russia, it is predicted that 220,000 jobs are created annually during the preparation and hosting of the World Cup, which led to an increase in US$6.59 billion in personal income.

Besides that, 210,000 Russians acquired additional skills in preparation and hosting of large tournaments in areas such as construction, hospitality, communication and transportation.

A further 52,000 people received volunteer training. When these numbers are transposed to an Asean context, the number of jobs created could reduce the unemployment rate in countries such as Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines, which have an unemployment rate of more than 5 per cent.

The creation of new jobs and provision of new skills would greatly reduce the poverty rate in Asean which is at 14 per cent in 2015. This would help Asean region to grow economically to compete with countries and regions such as China and the European Union.

Overall, the World Cup’s impact on Russian Economy is that it generated around US$2 billion of investments annually and the boost for GDP to be between US$26 billion to US$30.8 billion from 2013-2023.

On the face of it, the World Cup is beneficial to the economy, however various factors have to be considered, such as the cost of hosting the World Cup, opportunity cost, changing tourism patterns and an increasing share of revenue going to sport governing bodies.

The cost of hosting the 2014 Brazilian World Cup in total is US$11.5 billion. The cost might not seem much when considering the long term benefits of the infrastructure, jobs and skills created and investment generated from the enhanced reputation of the region.

If there are resources to host the World Cup, it signifies that there are resources to solve pressing issues such as poverty, lack of proper education and lack of vital resources such as water and electricity.

It is true that an increase in government spending should lead to an increase in GDP, however spending on stadiums which are expensive to build and maintain, such as the Arena da Amazônia in Brazil which cost US$300 million to build does not really improve the economic wellbeing of an average worker.

The argument that the World Cup would lead to new infrastructure being developed does not stand because the equivalent benefits of having new infrastructure can be derived by eliminating the need to build additional stadiums.

This leads to the next argument that the ‘new infrastructure’ in terms of stadiums mostly become white elephant and money would be better spent on improving the poor instead. As explained above, various stadiums in Brazil and South Africa are barely used and it costs a large amount of money to operate the stadiums.

For example, the Moses Mabhida Stadium in South Africa costs US$6.3 million to maintain every year. This huge amount of money could be used to improve the poor instead, a view supported by economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Despite the argument that by hosting the World Cup, it would lead to increased tourism, it would also disrupt established tourist flows and end up reducing traffic away from popular attractions and sites. For example, in Beijing and London, it is shown that the number of yearly visitors reduced during Olympic years.

The British Museum had reported a 22 per cent decrease in visitor numbers in the month that the games were held and the British government had concluded that there was substantial displacement of regular visitors who were deterred by the potential for overcrowding, disruption and price rises.

The mainstream argument that hosting the World Cup would lead to an increase in tourism does not really stand.

This spells bad news for Asean countries that rely heavily on tourism, such as Thailand whose tourism industry contributes to more than 9.3 per cent of overall GDP, which translates to US$36.4 billion.

The World Cup should not be hosted by the Asean region.

Besides that, there is an increasing share of revenue that goes to the governing body and in this case it would be Fifa. The 2012 London Olympics generated US$5.2 billion in revenue from gate receipts, merchandise sales, sponsorships, licensing agreements and television rights.

However, in recent years, the governing bodies behind these sporting events are getting a bigger share of the spoils, and it makes it harder for the local organising bodies to make a profit.

For example, Fifa had generated almost US$5 billion in revenue despite not having any significant contribution to organising the games. This is daylight robbery as the hosting states do not get to reap the rewards of their labour as most of it is taken away by the ‘governing bodies’, who do not have any financial costs in organising the tournament.

This leads to the question of whether hosting the World Cup is really worth it as the host states cannot enjoy fully the rewards of hosting the games.

In terms of the social impact of hosting the World Cup, it would help strengthen the ties of Asean countries as a whole.

Asean citizens would have a sense of community, identity and solidarity among one another as we would be celebrating the victories and lamenting the losses of Asean nations as if it were of our own countries.

This could be seen in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where a region with 11 languages and deep racial and economic divisions were united during the World Cup, and it sparked patriotism and positive nationalism among the South Africans.

Besides that, the South African government had attempted to use the international competition to unify the White and Black South Africans through something that they can both root for and aim for a common goal.

Sporting paraphernalia with national colours were promoted, and workers were permitted to show up to work in these sporting paraphernalia.

When adopted into the Asean context, it could help strengthen the ties of Asean countries, and it could heal the frayed relationships between Asean nations, due to issues such as Rohingya mass migration.

However, it could be argued that the reconciliation among Asean citizens is only temporary. This is because after the month-long football carnival, people would return to their normal lives and the temporary solidarity would disappear.

There would not be something visible such as a major sporting tournament which acts as glue to bind Asean citizens together, and most Asean citizens would not identify with a common Asean goal.

This could be seen in the 2010 South African World Cup, where critics have pointed out that despite strong efforts to use the World Cup as a uniting factor, different segments of South African society sung different portions of the national anthem and people tend to identify with the part of the national anthem based on their race.

It is also argued that the rallying around the South African colours gave way to the racial identity of different ethnicities after the games. In an Asean context, it is plausible that the similar situation would happen because Asean citizens tend to identify with their country rather than Asean as a whole, and the social integration project through the World Cup would ultimately meet its demise, and socially speaking, the World Cup might not be as impactful as it is thought to be.

On the surface, hosting the World Cup might seem to be a wonderful idea with lots of benefits to the host states.

However, we do not live in a perfect world and truth be told, the costs are too great and the impact of the potential benefits are uncertain which does not justify hosting the World Cup.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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