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Thailand anxious over FIFA approval of World Cup arena
Publication Date : 29-10-2012
Thailand faces an anxious wait today to discover whether the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will grant approval to the multi-million-dollar Bangkok Futsal Arena for use at the Futsal World Cup, which kicks off on Thursday.
Intended as the main venue for the 24-team tournament to be held from November 1-18 in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, the arena is now at risk of being unable to host the event due to construction delays.
The arena has already missed the initial hand-over deadline, costing the hosts the opportunity to stage an opening ceremony and to hold Thailand's group-stage fixtures at the venue. FIFA has been lenient though, giving the home team a second chance to use the stadium in the later stages of the tournament should it be delivered by today's revised deadline.
However, as of yesterday, the playing surface at the arena had yet to arrive from China. It was supposed to arrive on Saturday.
Although construction of the stadium itself has finally been completed, the hosts are still waiting for FIFA's decision with bated breath following the problems concerning the playing court. With the world soccer's governing body also having oversight of futsal and setting the specifications for the floor, the local authorities had to import one, but it has faced logistics problems that caused a delay in delivery.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra - whose office is responsible for building the stadium as the host-city authority - stated earlier that if the floor did not arrive on time he would ensure that an alternative one was laid. This is widely seen as a last resort as no one knows whether FIFA will be willing to compromise on the issue.
If FIFA does not grant approval, the 1.3-billion baht (US$42 million) arena will miss out on hosting Cup games altogether. No one had imagined that such a worst-case scenario could come close to developing, given that Thailand needed to build only one new stadium in the capital for the Cup.
The country's struggle to complete the building on schedule is embarrassing enough, let alone being unable to use it for any of the Cup games. People could be forgiven for struggling to come to terms with what has happened; it is a rare occurrence for a host country to fail to prepare on time for an international competition.
It is particularly humiliating for Thailand as concerned parties are pointing the finger at each other over the stadium farce, rather than making a collective effort to solve the problem.
"No one wanted this to happen. We were all glad when the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration changed its mind and decided to build the arena after initially aborting the plan," said Ong-art Kohsinkha, the secretary-general of the Football Associa-tion of Thailand. "They saw it fitting to have a new stadium for such a world-class tournament.
"We tried to explain to FIFA what happened, and they understood our situation. They knew we faced difficulties in construction from finding the building site to the major flood that hit our country last year.
"But, we can't do anything if they don't approve the stadium. It's just a missed opportunity for us. In fact, it's not a big deal as we can still host the tournament even without the arena," Ong-art said.