The 2018 FIFA World Cup finally kicked off with Russia winning the first game of the tournament. While the whole world is waiting to see if their team makes it past the group stages, Mexico has even more reason to be excited after the announcement that it won its bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Mexico, alongside the US and Canada launched the United bid, which pipped Morocco’s proposal to the post today.
Despite the excitement in the air, past experiences show that there are negative side effects for countries that take on the challenge of hosting this most important football tournament in the world. Some hosts have seen their million-dollar investments become white elephants.
First things first: What is a white elephant?
- a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit
- an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others
- something of little or no value
The Case of South Africa
South Africa got its very first World Cup in 2010 and the country could not have been more excited. The cost of the stadiums and infrastructure was expected to have a price tag of approximately US$300 million and predicted to boost GDP to the tune of US$2.9 billion. The Bleacher Report states that Soccer City alone cost more than US$300 million and more than US$4 billion was spent in rebuilding the country’s 10 stadiums and upgrading its infrastructure. The World Cup was a success, but what happened to all of the investment in stadiums and infrastructure? The Guardian investigated what actually happened to South Africa 2010 World Cup Stadiums and it turns out they not so active these days. It says that the absence of fans has given municipalities that own these steel monsters headaches as they battle to ensure the financial stability of the venues. One of the biggest examples was the 54,000-seat Cape Town Stadium, which has drained the city council’s budgets by US$3.19 million a year with very little income to offset that expenditure.
The Case of Brazil
Brazil also had its go at hosting the 2014 World Cup but what happened after the last whistle blew is similar to that of South Africa. According to Reuters, Brazil invested over US$11.3 billion in infrastructure improvements for the World Cup and one third of it was for building and improving stadiums in more than 12 cities. Maracanã Stadium which is one of the largest and most emblematic stadiums has been abandoned and forgotten. According to Business Insider, Brazil spent more than US$3 billion on the stadiums alone. Another example is the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, which was its most expensive stadium and is currently being used as parking lot.
Avoiding Past Mistakes
As the US, Mexico and Canada prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, its important to learn from the mistakes of other countries to create multipurpose infrastructure that will not only blend into the surrounding communities but that will also serve a purpose after the roaring fans go back home. This consortium was chosen not only because it proposed US$11 billion in profits for FIFA but because it had the most developed stadium infrastructure ready to receive the world’s football fans. But when these countries begin to either renew existing stadiums or build new ones, it is important to remember what makes a stadium sustainable.