Thailand will host the 2012 Fifa Futsal World Cup at four competition sites in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. With the sport’s showpiece event just around the corner, and the main competition venue at Bangkok Futsal Arena still under construction, things are progressively turning sour for the host nation.
Thailand beat strong candidates such as China, Iran, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and Guatemala in the bidding process on March 18, 2009 to become the third nation from Asia to host the tournament, following Hong Kong in 1992 and Taiwan in 2004.
The premier event is scheduled for November 1 to 18, with the cream of the world futsal (indoor five-a-side football) set to contest the enlarged finals featuring 24 teams in all, four more than in Brazil four years ago.
The renovations of three venues – Hua Mark Indoor Stadium and Nimibutr Gymnasium in Bangkok and the Chalerm Prakiart Gymnasium inside Nakhon Ratchasima Sports Complex – have been completed and the sites are ready for use. Unfortunately, the main battleground, the 12,000-seater Bangkok Futsal Arena in Nong Chok, remains under construction.
Bangkok had initially planned to make the arena, which covers a 50 rai land plot, the main sports centre in the eastern part of the metropolis. The foundation stone was laid only on January 24 this year, with construction commencing almost three years after Thailand won the bid.
Designed by King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, and constructed by EMC, the Bt1.239-billion project hit a snag resulting in delays and attracting acerbic criticism from the media. Local fans raised doubts and blamed the Football Association of Thailand and Bangkok alike for the holy mess. Things gradually started to take a turn for the worse. The Fifa Futsal Committee, the local organising committee and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration revised the schedule of the matches on October 5.
The national humiliation is complete when officials declared that the Bangkok Futsal Arena, which was to host the opening ceremony and four preliminary matches, could conduct the first match only on November 14 just four days before the end of the tournament. They said that construction on the site was delayed because of heavy rains that crippled parts of the city and resulted in severe flooding.
In fact, Bangkok had planned to hand over the Bangkok Futsal Arena on October 21. That deadline obviously will pass and now it appears that the decision to cancel the first-round matches at the arena was sound.
Given more time, the thick-skinned officials may get the new arena off the ground and running but then Thais have already lost face. The latest is that Fifa will take a final decision about the readiness of the arena by October 25.
This is not the first time the country has confronted the problem of delay. We faced a similar situation when Thailand hosted the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok. When it came to the crunch, we all worked against time and completed the task and hosted a great Games.
It is one example that Thailand has the capacity to overcome challenges. We have done it in the past and we will do in the future. Keep your fingers crossed and let’s hope that the Bangkok Futsal Arena will be completed ahead of the kick-off on November 1. Rain or shine, the biggest show must go on.