Anyone who has been to Bangkok knows it’s a nightmare to get around. Yes, there’s the BTS Skytrain but that only has a limited number of stations, most in tourist areas. If you need to get anywhere slightly out of the way you’d better pray for a miracle: that you not only find your destination on time but manage to find it at all. Buses, taxis, the klongs – you take your life, patience and sanity in your hands.
I speak from experience, having gone to Bangkok for the Asian Cup in 2007 and getting so lost on my way to the ramshackle Rajamangala Stadium 13km from the centre that I thought I’d ended up in Manila.
Travelling fans were livid at the stadium’s location when there was a perfectly good one going virtually unused, the Suphachalasai or National Stadium, right in the city. It was, to be frank, a gross imposition on those fans who had gone to the trouble and expense of coming to South-East Asia to follow their teams. Many swore never to go to an Asian Cup again.
Odd. Just as it’s odd that when Thailand was announced as the host of the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup it decided to build a $45 million 12,000-capacity indoor stadium on government land in the Samphan Soi 4 area of Nong Chok – the same northern district, or khet, in the boondocks of the sprawling metropolis where the National Football Training Centre stands on land that appears to be owned and controversially developed with FIFA grants by Thailand Football Association boss and FIFA executive member Worawi Makudi.
The Thai FA president and FIFA executive committee member is now the subject of an investigation and may be referred to the FIFA ethics committee. Your columnist first raised questions about Worawi’s land purchases back in July.
The NFTC is just eight kilometres to the north of the new indoor soccer stadium. The new stadium will be 56 kilometres from the city centre. A voyage to the Rajamangala, which would test the survival skills of Bear Grylls, is only a quarter of that. An extraordinary distance, even with promised new routes for fast buses linking the stadium to the airport 32 kilometres away and the rest of the city’s rapid transit network.
Yet the Thai FA and the Thai government have brushed off concerns, stating that the stadium’s location, on the site of the existing Bangkok Metropolitan Training and Development Centre, will spark a development boom. A new town will rise up and everyone stands to gain.
Yet it’s the same Nong Chok where the rich and politically well connected Worawi happens to own the real estate portfolio that is currently the subject of vigorous dispute. It’s not like Bangkok is hard up for stadiums either: three others will provisionally be used for the World Cup in the capital, and three in other cities. If a new town does spring up in the shadow of the new stadium, it’s conceivable that land owner Worawi and other property developers in the area stand to gain handsomely.
A coincidence? Maybe. A conflict of interest? That could be another matter for FIFA to determine. But what can’t be in dispute is that’s just another example of Asia’s football politicians selling fans short. As always, they deserve a whole lot better.
This column was originally published by the Sunday Guardian. Please check for new “The Counter” columns by me every Sunday at www.sunday-guardian.com/sports. Love to see you there.