Thursday, 12 October 2017

Football's coming home to Thailand and UK in 2034? And 2032?

The Bangkok Post article on the possibility of Thailand, and Indonesia, hosting the 2034 World Cup was interesting on several grounds:

Sports and Tourism Minister Khun Kobkarn speaking on The Voice rightly expressed some doubts over the viability of such an arrangement.

Clearly the private sector as well as FAT the Football Association of Thailand should be expected to support such an endeavour. Even match-fund some public sector and government investment.

While it would be asburd to go to the effort and expense of staging the World Cup simply for Thailand to gain a pass to the final.

But is Khun Kobkarn right to be so cautious as not just a Cabinet Minister but one of Thailand's leading business gurus?

Certainly large sporting events are fraught with problems - the Bangkok Post uncharacteristically muddling the Rio Olympics of 2016 and athlete villages in disrepair, with the Brazil World Cup of 2014.

As sure as Winter follows Summer - or monsoon follows sunshine - every Olympics has it's share of buildings almost not being ready or the showers oput on upside down or glass doors on the toilet cubicles etc etc.

And ASEAN as a region has often struggled with big-ticket events: Indonesia losing the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 - both mired in corruption allegations. And this week the England football squad on notice of rabies vaccinations for its qualifying matches in Russia.

As an aside, comedian Simon Brodkin this week racing onto the pitch of the Tory Party conference to hand a P45 unemployment notice to PM Theresa May. Brodkin also infamous with his Jason Bent football character who showered FIFA's Sepp Blatter with fake dollars shouting "North Korea for the 2026 World Cup" amidst the widespread FIFA corruption allegations.

While Vietnam in particular struggled with the Hanoi Games in 2019 which had to be moved elsewhere at the last minute. Hardly an inspiring advertisement for ASEAN planning. Nor the problems of Resilience floods from Climate Change that will only increase.

While the Olympics has probably been even worse in terms of planning since Montreal in 1976 nearly went bust, the Moscow 1980 boycott over the Afghanistan invasion, and London 2012 had problems with its VAT budgeting.

And yet.

Aren't problems to be expected with any major event? No surprises there. Not every Mexican wave at Wembley is as perfect as it could be.

But Thailand, as Kobkarn mentioned, has had great successes with SEA Games and Asian Games - I was at Phuket in 2014 and was hugely impressed.

Superb organization and events - but where was everyone?

While the LA Olympic Games in 1992 actually turned a profit.

And of course the London Olympic Games in 2012 was a massive success, even after the great success of Beijing 2008.

And surely the key point is we're talking Bangkok in 2034: 17 years away. If Thailand (or any other nation) couldn't do it with a 17 year lead then when could it? 2044? 2054? In the 22nd century?

And more importantly than Thailand's accounting for any World Cup budget by 2034 - isn't there a golden opportunity to also host the Oympics in 2032? No doubt after the successes of Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024 and LA 2028?

Following the sun across the Pacific from LA to ASEAN by 2032 must surely be viable for Thailand?

### Thailand leading the field ###

For surely the game has changed for a Bangkok bid with not just a 17 year lead-time to tightly plan its infrastructure and transport and marketing - a regular failing of the Olympics is that bids and events are rushed within only a few years, hence the ramshackle athlete's villages and ghost town stadia.

London 2012 successfully avoiding both those problems through construction efforts by Arup and Murphy and Balfour Beatty that also delivered on the Channel Tunnel, The Shard and Crossrail tunnel, all the largest projects in Europe. And now Crossrail 2 tunnel, HS3 and HS2 hispeed rail.

And legacy planning to regenerate Docklands and the East End, the Laem Chabang or Basson of UK, with new stadia for West Ham United, a world class swimming pool, and investment in Hackney Marshes the largest number of football pitches in Europe. Some stadia and buildings designed to be dismantled after the events for use as public parks and promenades and waterways that must surely be releant blueprints for Bangkok.

UK Sports and Tourism Minister, Kent's Tracey Crouch not just an FA referee, but with an eye to swimming pools and ice rinks and cycling races that UK as a Sporting Superpower after 2012 deserves.

But also, as with Brazil, Bangkok would now have the chance to spread the costs and activity over two major events: the World Cup and Olympics.
The sort of two for one offer that even Tesco Lotus and Boots don't do.

And with Indonesia and other ASEAN nations to spread the events and costs over different sites and regions.

Surely the ADB and even AIIB as well as the Myanmar government would be keen for football in Yangon. Or Olympics events in Phnom Penh and HCMC.

If Phuket can host the SEA Games so successfully (Beach Soccer a World Cup variant yet?) and Buriram not just overhaul its football stadium but also a Formula One race track then surely Thailand is capable of making the effort?

### Brazil Sensacional Olympic advertising ###

And the Bangkok Post is unusually simply wrong to suggest the Brazil World Cup was of little value: the Miami Herald article here details a range of successes:

* 3.1M Brazilians attended games in 12 cities - relevant for Thailand in Isaan and Deep South and North after the referendum divisions? - above the 3M target
* the target of 600k international visitors was swamped by 1.035 foreign visitors from 203 nations - for thailand that would be the equivalent of its annual total of British tourists visiting again
* the success lasted with tourists increasing to over 1M visitors the folowing year
* crucially for any Sports and Tourism Minister keeping tight rein on the national purse strings - 61% of foreign tourists were visiting for the first time and 95% said they wanted to return
* the economic success of the World Cup was estimated at $7.5BN from the $6.7BN target - worth comparing to the 222BN THB annual budgeted sunk costs for Thailand's military expenditure through to 2034
* with MICE such a key aspect of Thai Tourism, the Brazil World Cup yielded a bumper crop of 870 extra conferences and events

Interestingly the Miami Herald echoed the possibilities for ASEAN - and Khun Kobkarn's robust plans to expand UTapao Pattatya EEC airport - as Miami International Airport the gateway to Latin America cited a 16% increase during the World Cup and a continued uplift of 6.9% afterwards.

Even allowing for a bit of Ministry of Tourism and government exaggeration by Brazil the 2014 World Cup was hardly a failure more a grandstanding success.
Khun Kobkarn might even dance a samba of her own on these figures and that USA - hardly renowned soccer nation - bought more tickets than any other nation and stated an extra two days.

While the Brazil Cup and Games proved so successful they've gained the 2019 Student Games too.

And 98% of World Cup Brazil visitors saying they approved of Brazilian hospitality and 93% liking the food surely augurs well for Thailand's hotels and somtam sellers?

Bizarrely the research showed German visitors were impressed how Brazilians shared their tables and beer - surely that shows Germans as a bit mean and overly keen on beer?

That aside, what about UK?

There is a further opportunity for both Thialand and UK. Why wouldn't UK support team Thailand and detail its learnings from 2012 Games and FA Cup and Premiership events?

With Premiership football so popular in Thialand - I've detailed before a visit to the River Kwai (it's 75th anniversary next month surely the start of activity) and spending an evening in a theme bar for Stoke City football club. Even Stoke doesn't have a Stoke City theme pub.

Thailand's passion for UK football is only matched by Britain's indifferent approach to deepening such ties.

Surely UK and Thailand are wasting a golden opportunity to build closer links through Premiership football - and not just the occasional visit by Arsenal or Man United or Liverpool?

While Thailand's and ASEAN's rising visitors to UK surely need more effective marketing activity than being pointed towards Wembley or the National Football Museum in Manchester - who knew of that in Mukdahan or Mindanao?

China already has shown some fancy footwork in creating a Football Plan for 2025 - wouldn't it be an open goal for UK and Thailand to do the same?

### Thailand profiting from Sport ###

Stakes in the ground for Bangkok Olympics 2032 and World Cup 2034 would make the activity concrete - and treelined.

While Khun Kopbkarn's concerns over ensuring public sector support could easily be washed away:

* why wouldn't Siam Cement not want to deliver on new stadia as well as hispeed rail stations?
* why wouldn't Minor want to deliver on its food and beverage trade?
* Singha and Chang wouldn't want to be left out nor the Siamese Foxes
* why wouldn't Erawan W deliver on hospitality for upwards of 1M new visitors
* why wouldn't GMM Grammy deliver on entertainment
* why wouldn't True deliver on its mobile phone and broadcast activity
* why wouldn't Thai Airways be upgrading its fleet on the basis of extra visitors
* why wouldn't SRT be upgrading its train fleet too
* why wouldn't Hitachi get on board the Team Thailand bus to the events
* why wouldn't DHL deliver on deliveries whether the World Cup or the Olympic Torch?

Other brands and nations are available - but somebody is going to host the 2032 Games and 2034 World Cup, why shouldn't it be Thailand 4.0 and ASEAN that grasp the opportunity now?

And it be a roaring success too?

And it's far too soon to talk of a silk football strip or sports science improvements.

While the great success of Hungary's hosting of the Swimming Championships must mark out a range of EU sporting excellence for the future from Budapest to Balaton to Buriram.

Khun Saowaruj of TDRI writes eloquently on the EEC (in Thailand not Europe) and S-curve shifts needed to move beyond just FDI and Thailand 4.0 tech shifts, to a future-facing and future-proofed overhaul of Thai if not ASEAN society:

Khun Kobkarn must surely be best-placed too to translate Thailand's offering through not just ASEAN but Japan's zaibatsu keeping the undoubted success of Tokyo 2020 going to Bangkok in 2034 from Mitsubishi to Hitachi to Nissan.

The Bangkok Games would get China's OBOR plans on side for a new Silk Road of rail and road and ports and airports too?

### The FAT of the Land ###

While just on obesity, the Bangkok 2032 and 2034 Games and Cup make sense. Even rabies as highlighted by Russia 2018 Cup (with 60k deaths worldwide especially in India is surely absurd in the 21st century - isn't that about $60k worth of vaccines, maybe $1M?) and TB too given the potential of improving the lives of soi dogs and London as the TB capital of Europe. The Zika virus and unfortunate problem for the Rio Games.

Or even the danger of dementia and brain damage from heading the ball as sadly highlighted by the problems now faced by the 1966 England World Cup team.

## A game of two halves: famine and feast ###

But obesity would be worth the cost of the Bangkok sports events in itself.

Dr James Bentham of Univeristy of Kent cited in the Independent and the Lancet for World Obesity Day this week details an accelerating global obesity rate especially in Asia from 0.7% of girls in 1975 to 5.6% in 2016, and for boys from 0.9% to 7.8%.

Indeed all the top 10 fattest nations are all in Asia-Pacific: Nauru, Cook Islands, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu etc with 24.4% to 33.5% of the populations with a BMI over 30. Obesity has also ballooned in USA to 19.5% of children and teenagers compared to 9.4% in UK.

UK's leading celebrity chef Jamie Oliver already active on promoting healthier school dinners and children's meals.

And 124M obese children now, is in stark contrast to 192M underweight (and UNSDG goal #1 of zero hunger and malnutrition), mainly in India as well as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Asia by the time of the Bangkok Games in 2032 will undoubtedly be suffering from an obesity epidemic even outweighing famine as the global population edges upwards from 7BN towards 11BN.

A cost in healthcare and shortened and limited lives of cancer and diabetes and supersized dental care - that could be factored into the cost of Games infrastructure.

TDRI estimate 6%of Thailand's GDP could be saved - and redirected - through reducing road accidents to UK levels: similar forecasts could easily be made on the health benefits of sports to Thailand and ASEAN.

Healthy living through sports and food, from pineapples to pomegranates, will be ever more vital - and relevant for Thailand's sports fixtures and foods.

The mountain of plastc waste in the environment from landfill, lack of recycling, or the oceans with plastic bags, and the 2.5BN coffeeshop disposable coffee cups with just 1% recycled and plastic drinks bottle deposit schemes, all now under review by UK parliament, and relevant for Thailand and sports events such as yachting and kayaking even beach polo.

Kayaking say the Yuam river along the Tenasserim Range and Mae Sariang near Chiang Mai could also deliver on showcasing the Hidden Thailand aspect of Thailand Tourism through sports and kickstarting any long-stalled infrastructure and environment projects.

UK is far worse at 40% than Germany and Denmark's household waste recycling at 90% - so Thailand's sheet rubber farmers might not gain much insight or benefit from Olympic sports except perhaps stadium seat cushions and tennis balls. But the mountain of plastic waste choking Asia's canals and rivers could surely be cleaned and recycled into stadia infrastructure as a further sporting economic value-add in terms of jobs. HSBC Vietnam extremely active in its Water Projects in the Mekong Delta.

While dynamic Curtis S. Chin former US Ambassador to ADB/Philippines and director of Milken Institute in California cites progressive policies from smaller Asian nations such as Bhutan with its emphasis on Gross National Happiness as a counterweight to the narrow economic deficiencies of GDP:

Timor-Leste ASEAN member by 2020 helping Thailand achieve the World Cup and Olympics? As no doubt would Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, and UK's Pacific Commonwealth friends. Cambodia could even revive its Commonwealth bid of a decade ago, as could Myanmar.

Thailand's Olympic and World Cup bid could easily encompass such progressive views that are already being developed in UK and EU with the Basic National Income, volunteering, jobshares, and 4 day working week as positives in themselves and in balancing the effects of AI and automation.

And when the Olympic torch is lit in 2034 and the World Cup kicks off in 2032, the crowd goes silent, the stadium lights lower, the Toshiba big screen in the stadium lights up...

...and Khun Kobkarn stands in the penalty area and kicks the first ball into the top left of the onion bag, then another sizzler to the top right, and then kicks the ball out of the stadium through the plasma screen...

...and to the new 2030 Mars space station as the ball passes to the first woman on Mars standing under the UN and Thai flags and UNSDG Goals banner. And she wellies the ball onto Saturn's moons and the next phase of space exploration.

Surely the next generation deserves Bangkok Games 2032 and World Cup 2034. Quibbles over wet cement or a few baht here and there will long be forgotten.
For the World Cup and Olympic Games are iconic sporting events to showcase Thailand as well as women's sports and why not Bangkok as the first UNSDG30 Games - or rather the curtain raiser to the UNSDG second iteration to 2040.

A child born today could well be leading out Thailand's women's football team by 2034 as Khun Kobkarn lays the groundwork for the next generation of girls. The Sport England campaign "This Girl Can" or Paralympics "Superheroes" perhaps one of the most inspiring leads to a sporting future for all in UK and Thailand.


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