Bring football home? No thanks. England shouldn't bid to host the 2030 World Cup

Ewan Bate
A football fan in a straw hat kisses a replica World Cup trophy - JASON CAIRNDUFF /Reuters

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No Novichok but quite a few shocks so far at this year’s World Cup, as crunch-time arrives in the Group Stage.

While Russia has descended into a society of Seven Nation Army chants and Icelandic Viking claps, behind the scenes, the costs of hosting a global sports competition have become more apparent.

This should give UK policymakers pause for the thought on whether the UK should bid for the 2030 World Cup or any other prestigious international sporting competition.

Russia has spent $11.8bn on construction and preparation for the tournament.

This high level of expenditure does no favours for the fiscal situation of Russia. Once the second largest economy in the world, its economy is now barely half that of the state of California and struggling under Western sanctions. Even if that $11.8bn had to be spent, there are many alternative projects it could have been spent on. For example, Moscow’s crumbling transport system.

Before you suggest that such an outcome wouldn't happen in the UK, take a look at the former Olympic Stadium in London

The aftermath of major sporting tournaments, the empty stadiums and tumbleweed-strewn parks, should act as a warning to the UK about hosting major sporting tournaments.

When the World Cup came to Brazil the country splurged out building the Arena Amazonia in isolated Manaus, a city with no top-division team. The stadium was used only 11 times in the 5 months after the tournament came to a close, yet it remains in public ownership and its upkeep costs are met by the Amazonas state government – yet more public money which could be spent elsewhere.

And before you suggest that such an outcome wouldn't happen in the UK, take a look at the former Olympic Stadium in London. Newham Council gave West Ham United a £40m loan to move into that white elephant, and the council has now admitted it may never be repaid. All that for a stadium the fans don't even like.

It's not only the money spent that has an opportunity cost – so does the land used to build sports facilities. The space taken up by this 44,000-seat stadium in Manaus – a city surrounded on all sides by the Amazon rainforest – could instead have been used for housing, hospitals or schools.

World Cup 2018 stadiums

While major sporting events, such as the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and the 2012 Olympics in London are often promoted as a means to regenerate areas of urban blight, the evidence in favour of such an approach is mixed.

The area that became London's Olympic Park was one of the last major undeveloped former industrial sites in the capital. Compare its fate to the other major area of wasteland, Nine Elms in Battersea – now home to the American embassy and a massive new housing development – and you can see that you don't need mega-events to trigger regeneration.

Although major sporting occasions can be a catalyst for investment, there are more effective and direct ways for the Government to spend such large sums of money, if it really does insist on headline-grabbing projects. For example, the transformation of the Kings Cross area, which will soon be home to Google's European HQ, owes much of its success to HS1. It was a controversial project, certainly, but at least the country got a solid piece of infrastructure out of it.

In addition, major sporting events aren't necessarily the tourism magnets some claim.  

For every Barcelona, there is an Athens, a Rio de Janeiro or an Atlanta

Sports fans often limit themselves to tickets, travel, accommodation and a little food. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, for example, the average sports fan spent a mere $15 per day, which pales in comparison to the average $100 per day that a normal tourist spent at the time.

Supporters of Olympics often point to Barcelona as an example of how hosting the games can put a city on the map. Yet Barcelona also happened to be the host city in 1992, just a few short years before the explosion of budget European flights. Even then, for every Barcelona, there is an Athens, a Rio de Janeiro or an Atlanta. 

Much of Britain is, anyway, already awash with tourists. In fact, find old news reports from the 2012 Olympics, and you will see restauranteurs and shop owners pleading for visitors, put off by warnings of vast Olympic crowds, to come back to a suddenly empty central London. 

A public bung for purposeless buildings and a measly contribution to the economy from tourism are clear reasons why an already cash-strapped UK shouldn't be bidding for any future major sporting events.

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