FIFA’s decision on 2 December to declare Russia and Qatar as the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 edition of the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup provides further evidence of the organisation’s strategy of expanding the frontiers of the game and using the event as a catalyst for development and global inclusiveness. This process can be traced back to 2000, when it was announced that consecutive competitions would be rotated by continent, thus providing FIFA President Joseph Blatter with the opportunity to make good on his election promise to take the World Cup to Africa. The principle has since been abandoned, but its intentions remain.
FIFA’s technical report for the South Africa 2010 World Cup bid discussed the opportunity to create “unity among the different ethnic groups that were separated socially, culturally and in sport for years,” and was seen by the Local Organising Committee as have the potential to “help strengthen and consolidate our democracy.” Similarly FIFA sees taking the competition to Brazil in 2014 as benefiting “the population as a whole…in terms of the economy, transport, communication, public services and facilities, safety and the enhancement of sporting facilities.” In these instances FIFA clearly sees the power of football, and its role as the game’s governing body, to contribute towards social change and urban development. Perhaps excited by the far-reaching potentials of the event, the 2018 and 2022 editions have been allocated to Russia and Qatar respectively, irrespective of their inferior technical reports in comparison to rival bids.
Encouraged by FIFA, many countries increasingly view mega-events as a means of furthering their national development priorities. With this in mind it would not be unlikely to see China or India bidding for a World Cup in the near future, or a South African city bidding for the Olympics. But what are the realities? Some commentators have put Greece’s fiscal woes down to the economic burden of the 2004 Olympic Games, followed by the (albeit unforeseen) financial crash. In this regard, it is reassuring that England will not have to bear the burden of a World Cup on top of the bill for the London Olympics; something Brazil will have to contend with over the next decade.
A longer-term view is seldom at the forefront of the minds of authorities who frequently crave prestige and economic returns over satisfying the needs of their people. Countries such as South Africa and Brazil have relied predominantly on public funding for the World Cup, risking an intangible legacy of national debt that could burden citizens for years to come and negating the positive impacts and ‘feel-good factor’ of the occasion.
Above: The Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Robben Bay and next to the popular Victoria & Albert waterfront. Table mountain dominates the background.
Tangible legacies, in particular sports stadia, must have comprehensive plans for re-appropriation. For FIFA (whose projected income from the 2010 World Cup exceeded $1 billion, chiefly through television revenues and sponsorship money) the images projected into millions of households are paramount. The most poignant example of this has been the City of Cape Town’s proposal to redevelop an existing stadium located in one of the city’s deprived neighbourhoods, Athlone. FIFA rejected this suggestion, instead supporting the construction of the now iconic Green Point stadium, framed against Table Mountain and Robben Bay to satisfy the distant viewer. FIFA sponsorship rights are undoubtedly an obstacle to the spreading of wealth among the population: only authorised World Cup sponsors are permitted to operate within a one kilometre radius of stadia on match days, surely limiting the opportunities for local entrepreneurs to benefit directly from the event.
The Qatar 2022 bid proposes twelve stadia, nine of which will be newly constructed. They all lie within 60km of each other raising serious questions over their future beyond the World Cup.
This recent trend of holding the competition in less traditional nations, while admirable in its intent to use the mega-event model as a tool for urban transformation, could be seen as placating the altruistic desires of western societies. The realities of public debt without meaningful opportunities for local people, especially those on lower-incomes, cannot be taken lightly. Is this little more than a new kind of ‘entertainment dependency’? Are nations such as South Africa simply providing a setting to an event that is only really accessible to visitors from richer nations – or indeed from the comfort of their armchairs – while the majority of locals priced out of participating themselves?
The contribution of the World Cup towards meeting development goals can only be fully understood in the long term; measuring success therefore depends on how long it takes for the outcomes to become visible. Russia and Qatar will expect a greater deal of private financing, which will afford cities and their inhabitants their own opportunities and challenges. For these nations, at this early stage of the planning process, the World Cup presents them with unprecedented and unlimited possibilities and concerns.
For a discussion on the impact of the World Cup and Olympic Games on housing rights in São Paulo, see Julia Azevedo Moretti’s blog.