SINGAPORE: Qualification for the FIFA World Cup in 2034 would be a "realistic" goal for Singapore, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Vice-President Edwin Tong said in an interview with the Straits Times published on Sunday (Aug 18).
"We've always wanted to be somewhere on the world stage, so we need to start," said Mr Tong, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Health and Law.
"2034 is 15 years away ... so you're looking at boys today who are maybe eight, nine to 14, 15 and if you can cultivate the programme that has that endgame in mind, it will do us a lot of good," he said, according to the Straits Times.
This is not the first time Singapore has set a target to play at football's showcase tournament. In 1998, Singapore said it was aiming to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said the initiative, dubbed Goal 2010, was “bold and ambitious”.
Despite failing to achieve that goal, Mr Tong expressed confidence over the latest push.
"If we're worried about trying to set up a goal and failing, we'll never get there. So we have to be realistic about our prospects; we're not aiming for the next 10 years, but set ourselves a 15-year horizon."
According to the report, Mr Tong also highlighted the expanded 48-team format for the tournament that would be implemented from 2026 and noted that the number of places for Asian countries will almost double to eight.
"There are a bit more opportunities ... The obvious powerhouses, Korea, Japan, Australia, maybe some of the Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the next tier you have Uzbekistan, Central Asians, and of course Southeast Asians," he told the Straits Times.
"We can look at that as a goal. So it's not unrealistic, but it's also not easy," Mr Tong added.
According to the Straits Times, Mr Tong said Goal 2034 would be used to "focus and shape everything" that the FAS and its stakeholders do. He added that grassroots football, youth development, infrastructure and schools will play important roles in helping meet the goal.
He also shared his thoughts on the impact of National Service on the 2034 target.
"Inevitably we have to work out what to do with National Service (NS), how we can align NS, which is important, with the needs of football."
According to the report, Mr Tong suggested a "relook" into former club models such as the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Associations (SAFSA) and Home United. These clubs allowed full-time national servicemen to train and play competitive matches.
Seeing Singapore's representation on football's biggest stage "will mean a lot to Singaporeans and sports fans" and "give the country a lift", Mr Tong added.
"So we set ourselves a target, we try to lift everyone and push everyone behind it," he said.
Back in June, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the launch of a joint bid by ASEAN countries to host the World Cup in 2034, after meetings between the region's leaders in Bangkok.
Asia has held the quadrennial showpiece of international soccer only once when Japan and South Korea were joint hosts in 2002 and Qatar will bring it back to the continent in 2022.
The 2002 edition is the only World Cup to have been hosted by more than one nation but the United States, Canada and Mexico will jointly stage the 2026 tournament.