Mark Twain famously said, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”, a phrase that is often used to describe the persuasive power of numbers and statistics. And if there is one event that highlights the sheer magnitude of numbers, it’s definitely the Soccer World Cup. FIFA recently announced that the 2010 World Cup Final at Soccer City in Johannesburg was watched by over 1 billion people, only beaten by the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony as the world’s most-watched live event. FIFA said the 2010 SWC (64 matches played by 32 countries over one month), was broadcast in every corner of the world. More than 3.2 billion people, or 46.40% of the population watched live coverage of the event. Early numbers are suggesting that the event in Brazil will surpass the numbers of viewers that South Africa saw by 20%.
At the time of writing this article, the initial 32 teams have been whittled down to 4 teams, with tournament favourites Brazil and Argentina both contenders in the games, squaring off against Germany and the Netherlands respectively. In the 19 times the Soccer World Cup has been played, the host country has prevailed six times: Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, England in 1966, Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998. Brazil has won the prestigious event five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002), and will hope that this is the year that they can add a 6th title.
These numbers are certainly impressive but the topic that is on most people’s minds, is does hosting the Soccer World Cup really benefit a country and its people? According to FIFA, “a boost to GDP, tax revenue, tourism, jobs and public transportation” are the main benefits. But as we saw when the event was hosted in South Africa, they will (for the most part) be limited to the host cities. Footballs’ biggest competition has finally landed in the football capital of the world and the world has been set ablaze with excitement. Despite all this, 52% of Brazilians do not support hosting the World Cup in their own country. But why? Do the numbers support hosting such an event? Research on the topic, although plentiful, seems to indicate that there is some benefit for the host country but these are outweighed by the sheer number of negative aspects. Below is a short summary of important points that I have assembled during my research on the topic.
- South Africa spent over R11.4 billion on stadiums, much more than the initial 2004 estimate of R2.3 billion. This time the amounts are far larger. By the time the Soccer World Cup is over, the event is likely to cost well over $11.5 billion,with many reports putting the amount closer to the $15 billion mark. While some of that money will go towards things that Brazilians can use in the future (better airports, better roads and better public infrastructure), much of it will be essentially wasted on stadiums that will be left abandoned after hosting four of the World Cup matches. In fact, the estimated cost of the SWC is equal to just over 60% of the country’s education budget. Meanwhile, the country’s health and education systems are seriously lacking, leaving many to wonder where the government’s priorities truly lie. As an example, the city of Manaus which is situated in the heart of the Amazon forest, will be left with a stunning-looking stadium. The four SWC games that will take place there will be played in a stadium that cost $300 million dollars and are likely to be the only football the venue will ever see, as the city doesn’t have a competitive football club.The stadium has room for over 40,000 spectators, but the average football match played at the stadium draws around 1,500 fans. To make matter worse the stadium in nearly impossible by road and people are encouraged by FIFA to use either a plane or boat to get to the stadium. Beyond the obvious debt, it’s unclear who will cover the $250,000 monthly maintenance fees if the Brazilian government can’t find a corporate buyer. Had the Brazilian government opted to stick with FIFA’s recommendation of 8 stadiums instead of 12, the costs might have been contained.
- Serious allegations of corruption have also begun to surface. The cost to build a 69,000 seat stadium in the Brazilian capital, Brasília rose 68% to $636 million, and could skyrocket even higher once the true extent off all cost all known.
- The Brazilian people is having to foot an ever increasing bill and receive even less in return, which can’t be recovered through tourism alone. As an example, South Africa spent roughly $4.8 billion on the 2010 SWC and managed to only recoup only $500 million. A recent government article indicates that a total of 310,000 foreign tourists arrived in South Africa for the primary purpose of attending the 2010 SWC. This is a far cry for the initially expected 500,000 people.
- Thanks to broadcast rights, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and merchandising, sporting events are hugely profitable to organisations such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Bear in mind that Brazil will also host the most prestigious sporting event on earth, the Olympic Games in 2016. FIFA is predicted to pull in $4.50 billion in revenue on the 2014 SWC.
Make no mistake, it’s virtually impossible for a country to host such a major event without some sort of economic and social changes, but with much of the world still emerging from the recent economic crisis, super sporting events such as the Soccer World Cup and Olympics don’t have quite the same appeal as they did in happier times.
However, with that said, I will be glued to my screen for this coming Wednesday’s semi-final and will always be grateful that I was able to attend and experience an event like the Soccer World Cup.
Written by Francois Lombard