Why Qatar is an ideal World Cup host

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Image from anti-World Cup protests in Brazil

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know I’m not exactly enamoured of football. So for me the fact that its governing body appears to be impressively corrupt is just another reason to roll my eyes at it.

However, one assertion running through this whole affair: that it is obvious that Qatar is the wrong place to hold the World Cup. I appreciate that a desert at the height of summer is not the ideal climate for any kind of physical exertion. However, it does have what should be a key qualification for hosting the tournament: the ability to spend billions of dollars without missing them.

Hosting mega-sports events like the the World Cup generally involves huge expenditure. An IEA report on this subject from 2009 noted that:

FIFA requires that a host nation have at least eight, but preferably ten, modern stadia with seating capacities in the range of 40,000 to 60,000. For the 2002 World Cup, South Korea spent in the region of $2 billion constructing ten new stadia and Japan $4 billion in building seven new stadia and refurbishing three existing ones. Moreover, it is clear that other costs are also growing, with Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, spending more than $300 million on security alone, and Greece, host of the 2004 Summer Games, more than $1 billion (Baade, 2006, p. 177). This is in addition to the $1 billion estimated operating cost of running a mega-event (Baade and Matheson, 2004).

In exchange for these massive outlays host nations generally hope to gain a host of benefits. There may indeed be intangible gains like it being fun or improving a country’s international reputation – though this is not guaranteed the Commonwealth Games gave India all the wrong kinds of exposure. But the academic evidence is clear that hosting large scale sporting events almost always disappoints in terms of more tangible benefits like higher economic growth, greater job creation or increased participation in sport. The optimistic studies produced by governments showing differently tend to be be deeply flawed. They will routinely fail to ask whether greater benefits could be achieved by spending the money elsewhere and to what extent these events actually encourage new spending rather than diverting it from other sources.

Given that host governments are going to be spending billions from which their populations will see little benefit, I’d strongly advocate the notion that the only countries which should host such events are those whose governments have vast amounts of money to waste. Therefore, FIFA ought to be looking to host every World Cup in an oil rich Gulf state.

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