Is Hosting the FIFA World Cup Still Worth It?

With just a few days to go before the world's greatest sporting event and football's centerpiece tournament is set to kick off, Qatar is all set to go to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup despite weathering storms of controversies since it was awarded the hosting duties a decade earlier. Costs have already exceeded $200 billion ($300  billion according to independent estimates) making this edition, the most expensive tournament ever as compared to the 'extravagant hostings' of Brazil (2014) at $11.5 billion and Russia (2018) at $14 billion.

New modern stadiums cost $6.5 billion and a spanking new metro system had a $36 billion price tag alone (more than the combined budget of the previous two World Cups). The organizing committee claims that the mammoth infrastructure expenses are part of the Qatar National Vision 2030 to complement their post-World Cup initiatives. What remains a contentious issue is the treatment of migrant workers (mostly from South Asian countries) as human rights groups weren't shy of directly pointing fingers at the Qatari government. In February 2021, The Guardian reported that over 6,500 workers have died since preparation for the tournament began in 2010.

Countries looking to host the next showpiece event are taking notes on whether it's all worth the trouble to have it on their shores.

Is It Really Worth It?

Can prospective hosts in the succeeding World Cups be able to reap the economic benefits despite the cost and controversies associated with such an international event?

Well, it all depends. The 2026 World Cup which is slated to be hosted in the United States, Canada, and Mexico is expected to depart from the lavish and ostentatious hosting in previous editions. Both the United States and Canada have great connectivity and modern football infrastructure (MLS stadiums) with fast-growing football culture. Although Mexico's Liga MX has established facilities to host games, only a few areas in the host cities' infrastructure have to be improved.

If the long-term economic and social benefits outweigh the total operating costs of hosting the event then that doesn't stop countries from aspiring to have the World Cup on their home soil.

Why Host It?

Although football (soccer in other countries) is the world's most popular sport and the World Cup is the world's most viewed sporting event, hosting it doesn't necessarily guarantee big long-term benefits for the host country. The cost of hosting alone has grown exponentially from $450 million in 1994 to $200 billion in 2022. If FIFA keeps pressuring prospective hosts to spend a lot more on new stadiums and infrastructure then they won't be able to recoup the costs of hosting it.

Just imagine building a $500 million stadium to host eight World Cup matches with an average of 50,000 spectators would mean that an average fan would have to shell out $1,250 each to recoup the cost of building it. Not everyone thinks about its long-term use after the tournament is over as operating costs have to be maintained to keep the facility up and running. In fact, many World Cup stadiums have already fallen into disrepair including the ones in Brazil alone.

Even bidding to host the event costs a lot of money as the selection process takes ten years and two years to complete as a large time frame is needed to help the host country plan, develop, and build much-needed infrastructure and organize the support system needed to run the entire tournament.

If it's too expensive and the expected economic benefit can be just a gamble, why host it at all?

It's a Gamble

According to "Circus Maximus" author Andrew Zimbalist, there is an economic gamble involved in hosting prestigious events often motivated by achieving long-term positive gains:
✔️ Polish the host nation's image and boost international prestige through the promotion of trade, tourism, and foreign investment.
✔️ Improve national infrastructure, particularly in the transportation, telecommunications, security, and hospitality sectors.
✔️ Intangible benefits: feel-good factor, administrative efficiency, national unity

For these reasons alone, even developing countries are aspiring to host the FIFA World Cup as part of their national goals of stimulating economic development. If done properly, achieving such an initiative means lower wages would decrease operating and infrastructure costs while a large investment budget could literally be a nation-building exercise that will transform the country from the ground up.

However, there are intangible that would prevent host countries from fully reaping the long-term benefits of hosting it. Economic uncertainty will always drive public debt that shoulders part of the cost. The case of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup/2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil are just some of the cautionary tales that need to be avoided.

The expectation that tourism would increase tremendously following a global sporting event is a flawed argument. Although it is true that tourism numbers do increase as fans from all over the world flock to the host country, it's only temporary.


When politics cross the line into sports, some heads of state and unpopular regimes try to host big international events as a means to soften their image or gain global public support like the case of Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics and the Argentine military junta during the 1978 World Cup.

Buying favors to enhance perception is one way to put the host country in a good light and become the focus of the international community. Media plays a big part in the process as it publicizes the impressive infrastructure and modern facilities of the host nation while turning a blind eye to the things the organizers wanted to hide. It is expected that the enhanced national image and narrative would help boost international trade and investment, in the long run, overshadowing any sort of controversies and bad publicity along the way.

'Feel Good'

Obviously, it's a big honor for a chosen host country to stage the world's biggest sporting event no matter what the cost. It's truly a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience to experience the glitz, glamor, pageantry, and excitement of the beautiful game. You can't help but get into the grip of World Cup fever.

Demand for Inclusiveness

It is often said that football success is attributed to fans. Without fan support, there will be no ticket sales, no fully-booked hotels and restaurants, and more importantly, no capacity crowd. Although there is a significant tourism increase in major sporting events, it depends on the host country. That's why it takes a long time to prepare to attract foreign visitors to come.

Studies have shown that there is little to no evidence of a positive impact as a result of hosting the tournament. In fact, there is a great demand for change in order for the World Cup hosting to be more affordable and economically viable for all aspiring host countries. Although the tournament is seen as a waste of valuable public funds and resources, the trend of holding it still continues.

Yes, it brings a lot of pride and publicity to the country. But it doesn't justify the extent of the economic, political, and social costs that have to be incurred in order to make it happen. Many countries have fallen into debt traps that have yet to be fully resolved to this day.

All About the Money

The cost has risen as standards have been set so high and unreasonable that it expects hosts to be able to line up multiple host cities with modern stadiums. With that being said, money has to be poured in.

With its huge influence and control on the global game, FIFA has moved away from its non-profit beginnings to become a billion-dollar organization thanks to income generated from its lucrative ticket sales and television rights to the event. A large chunk of the economic cost of hosting the tournament is being passed on to the taxpayers. Only the official sponsors, with their separate deals with FIFA, are expected to cash in from the showpiece event. That means that FIFA makes money tax-free as it has monopoly power to negotiate one-sided deals with government agencies and corporate sponsors.

FIFA showed a presentation that breaks down the economic impact of the 2006 World Cup:
✔️ Total short-term economic activity - $3.31 billion
✔️ Jobs created - 50,000
✔️ Direct tax income generated - $120 million
✔️ National GDP boosted by 0.3%

The Boston Consulting Group conducted a World Cup Study in 2018 for the United States Soccer Federation on the anticipated economic impact. They found out that:
✔️ Total short-term economic activity - $5 billion
✔️ Jobs created - 40,000
✔️ Incremental worker earnings - $1 billion
✔️ Incremental economic activity in host cities - $160-$620 million

Although these data are already out of date, it offers significant insights into the upcoming 2026 World Cup.

At the end of the day, the so-called trickle-down economics doesn't necessarily the poorest people. That's why you see a lot of protests in South Africa and Brazil while migrant workers toil in deplorable conditions in Qatar. When all has been said and done, the final cost of operations is way beyond the estimated budget pre-tournament with little revenue for the host to recoup.

Final Thoughts

Other countries looking to follow may have to understand the unintended long-term economic consequences. Even if it happens once every four years, it takes at least a decade of long- and short-term planning, resources management, and policy-making to get it done. Yet, there are still a lot of things that may go wrong by the time is up.

The world is watching over Qatar by kick-off until the winning team raises the trophy in triumph.

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