The cost of hosting the World Cup has made headlines in recent years. When South Africa hosted in 2010, it spent roughly $3 billion to put on what was at the time the most expensive World Cup in history. Brazil, however, has taken spending to a new level; it is estimated that the Cup will cost the country at least $11 billion. Russia, host of the Cup in 2018, has announced plans to spend approximately $13 billion. These amounts are dwarfed, however, by the predicted cost for hosting the 2020 World Cup in Qatar – a staggering $200 billion.
Add to these totals the profit that non-profit FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the governing body for international soccer) makes from each tournament (approximately $1.4 billion in TV and marketing rights alone in 2006 – all tax-free by FIFA requirement), and the protests that have been ongoing in Brazil for over a year are unsurprising. Initially the Brazilian government stated that no money for the World Cup would come from public coffers, but construction delays and overspending resulted in $3 billion being diverted from various public programs, including those focused on indigent relief. Many Brazilians have responded by protesting in the streets, calling for more money towards healthcare, education, and affordable housing, and less money toward the many stadiums that were built specifically for the World Cup.
In fact, there are at least two brand-new stadiums in Brazil that will likely not be used often once the World Cup ends next month. The first, Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brásilia, is now the second most expensive soccer stadium in the world (after England’s Wembley Stadium). Despite the fact that nearly ten percent of the World Cup budget was spent on Mané Garrincha, the stadium is likely to remain unused as Brásilia doesn’t have a professional soccer team. Neither does the city of Manaus, where the U.S. team played -and won- its first game last week. Many of the materials needed to build the Arena da Amazônia there were brought in by boat via the Amazon River to this remote city of two million people. Changes to existing stadiums have also proven controversial: Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã, one of the most famous stadiums in the world, was modified to include more seats where fans used to stand. In a country known for its passionate soccer fans who sing and dance and cheer their way through games, adding seats changes the tenor of the stadium completely.
All of this spending naturally raises the question of whether all this money would have been better spent on social services needed by the more than 20% of the population who live below the poverty line in Brazil than on a soccer tournament whose ticket prices make it difficult if not impossible for many locals to attend. Soccer has historically been an equalizer between the rich and the poor and yet people living in countries hosting the most popular sporting event in the world may be shut out from that experience.
There is no doubt that the World Cup, like any major sporting event, can bring increased revenue from tourism and raise a country’s profile, but at what cost to the people who live there?