World Cup 2022 bid no joke, insists Indonesia
Indonesia's football federation insists its surprise interest in hosting the 2022 World Cup finals is a serious bid, not a novelty.
Despite its lack of success on the field, the world's most populous Muslim nation would be an ideal host and a serious rival to world football's heavyweights, said Nugraha Besoes, general secretary of the country's football federation.
"This bid is no joke, we've been planning it for a long time - this is a serious bid," Besoes told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the Asian Football Confederation's annual congress.
"Everyone is crazy about football in Indonesia. People will come to all the games and we have what it takes to host the tournament. This bid will open everyone's eyes to Indonesia."
Indonesia have only reached the World Cup finals on one occasion, as the Dutch East Indies in 1938, and Besoes admitted raising the level of the national team was a top priority.
"Our team lacks discipline and needs to perform well - this is our main focus," he said.
"We have to greatly improve our grassroots development, we have to become one of Asia's best teams and we have 12 years to work on that."
He said dozens of Indonesian players of less than 14 years of age were based permanently in Uruguay to expose them to a higher level of play, and hundreds more would be sent in future.
Besoes gave no projection for the funding needed to host the finals but said the bid had received guarantees from investors and the government.
He said Indonesia had gained valuable experience as a co-host of the 2007 Asian Cup when packed stadiums and fights for match tickets showed there was massive support among the country's 226 million people.
"There have been some negative signals from outside Indonesia about this bid, doubting we can be hosts, but people are crazy about football here," he said.
Australia, England, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the United States have bid for both the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, along with two joint proposals from Belgium and the Netherlands and Spain and Portugal.
South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar have confirmed their interest in hosting the 2022 finals.
The Indonesian bid pledges seven new stadiums and major upgrades to five existing venues, with matches held in 11 different cities across the sprawling archipelago, including in Banda Aceh, a region once roiled by decades of conflict.
Besoes sought to allay security concerns and said the government had taken great strides to prevent the bombings which rocked Jakarta and the resort island of Bali in recent years.
"We are not seeing anything like we did before," he added. "There's no more terrorism here, things are now back to normal."
Besoes said South Africa's successful bid for the 2010 finals showed that countries with limited on-field success were capable of hosting the World Cup.
"If South Africa can do it, why can't we?" he said. "We have the fifth-biggest population in the world, a love of football and a beautiful country - why can't it be us?"