After a long delay in deciding the fate of Bangkok Futsal Arena, Fifa yesterday delivered a bombshell verdict by denying approval to the billion-baht venue for use at the ongoing Futsal World Cup over security concerns.
Fifa’s decision was a stunning slap in the face for the organisers, who had named the Arena situated in Nong Chok district on the outskirts of the capital as main venue for the 24-team tournament. However, they had only themselves to blame, after allowing the Bt1.3-billion construction of the stadium to fall far behind schedule.
Rather than being harsh in dealing such a huge blow to the country’s reputation, world soccer’s governing body was in fact lenient with local officialdom – it twice postponed the deadline for completion of the stadium.
When authorities failed to meet the initial deadline, the Arena was ruled out as a venue for the Group A fixtures featuring Thailand. Now, Fifa has confirmed that what was to be the crowning jewel of the Futsal World Cup is unfit for use during any stage of the competition.
Fifa’s decision not to grant approval will be hard to digest for all the concerned parties, who now know that their huge efforts to ensure everything would be ready in time were in vain. Expectations last week were that Thailand would manage to avoid World Cup disaster, after Fifa provisionally agreed to permit the use of the Arena from the quarter-finals on condition that authorities met its requirements.
So the frustration was magnified given that officials were unable to make the most of their second chance by fulfilling Fifa’s conditions at the final inspection on Monday. Fifa stated that its Futsal Committee was concerned over security provision and thus decided not to give approval to the Arena.
The Committee based its decision on a report from the inspection group, including safety and security experts who carried out a thorough evaluation of the stadium. Although significant progress had been made, including the installation of a pitch, Fifa was not satisfied.
Its Committee explained that the safety of spectators, teams and all other visitors to the stadium were of paramount importance to Fifa, and that such a fundamental issue, as well as the functionality of core services and facilities, could not be compromised.
Nevertheless, Fifa acknowledged the round-the-clock efforts made by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), which was responsible for construction of the Arena, to meet the deadline.
The quarter-final fixtures on November 14 will now be played at Nimibutr Stadium, whilst the semi-finals and final will be hosted at the Indoor Stadium Huamark. Both stadiums have already hosted group stage matches.
Tickets that have already been bought for the six scheduled matches at the Arena will be valid at the new match venues.
Suphachai Tantikhom, the Arena director, blamed the stadium farce on government delays in approving the budget for construction.
“We did everything that Fifa requested, except some small issues. The reason we were unable to finish construction on time was the delay in budget approval that caused a lot of problems for us from the beginning.”
Suphachai was asked whether being unable to host the Futsal World Cup meant the Arena had failed to meet the purpose for which it was built. He declined to answer the question.
BMA spokesman Wasant Meewong revealed that Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra would call a conference on the issue today, but insisted that his office had done its best to ensure the Arena would be ready for the tournament.