Thailand face many challenges as futsal host (22/01/2012)

The recent launch of the official emblem and mascot for the 2012 Fifa Futsal World Cup marked a significant milestone in the organisation of the tournament in Thailand.

Though the countdown has truly begun, the host nation still has a long way to go in terms of preparation for the top-notch competition.

When Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the unveiling of the official emblem, a football-playing elephant, last Tuesday, it provided a "face" instantly recognisable both within the country and around the world. It also showcases what the visitors can expect later this year.

The Fifa Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012 will be held from November 2 to 18 in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. Thailand is the third country in Asia to host the tournament following Hong Kong in 1992 and Taiwan in 2004.

Interestingly, the 2012 competition will be the first time in the history of the quadrennial event that 24 teams will vie for the laurels, with title-holders and world No 2 Brazil and perennial rivals and world No 1 Spain emerging as the two pre-tournament favourites.

So far, hosts Thailand and the Solomon Islands are the only two teams that have made it to the event, while the remaining 22 sides are on their way to contesting qualifying tournaments.

Thailand have a remarkable record in Southeast Asia and captured the Asean Futsal Championship seven times in succession between 2001 and 2009. They reigned supreme in 2001, 2003 and 2005 when the event was held biennially, and from 2006 to 2009 annually.

In previous Fifa Futsal World Cups, Thailand failed to meet pre-tournament expectations, suffering early exits in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Hopefully, the let-down will spark the team to put up a challenging performance.

To stage a mega-sporting event and make it a memorable success, the host nation has to confront several challenges from the very beginning. Aside from the competition venues, facilities and infrastructure at both locations, Thailand must ensure the safety of all participants. Strict security measures should be put in place to make sure that no hooligans harm spectators, while security guards and officers on patrol must be on alert for vandalism and related crimes.

In terms of venues, the gymnasium inside the Sports Complex in Nakhon Ratchasima is undergoing renovation, while the construction of the country's biggest futsal arena in Nong Chok, Bangkok, with a capacity of 12,000 seats, has been affected by the recent floods and faces a delay. The Hua Mark Indoor Stadium and the Nimibutr Gymnasium will also serve as futsal battlegrounds. Thailand must inspire confidence in the Fifa officials by completing the works at least three weeks ahead of the kick-off on November 2.

Although it costs a lot to host a mega-sporting event like a world championship, cities, no doubt, will benefit from the spin-offs. The Fifa Futsal World Cup will help put Thailand on the world sports-tourism map. Foreign tourists will travel to Thailand, resulting in huge income for locals and soaring economic growth for the country. By taking on teams such as Brazil and Spain, Thailand, currently ranked No 12 in the world futsal rankings, could learn a lot in terms of tactics and skills.

Now that the countdown is under way, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that Thailand will do everything to make the Fifa Futsal World Cup a great success.

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