Described by Brazil's government as "the Cup to end all Cups," the
tournament kicked off on Thursday to a backdrop of controversy and
The world soccer organization, FIFA, is facing corruption
allegations over how Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup
as well as match-fixing claims, fewer countries are keen to host big
events and even some sponsors are starting to question the "halo
effect" of associating with them.
Ever since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, which set the gold
standard, large sporting events have been increasingly used to drive
infrastructure projects and try to regenerate cities.
Sports economists and sources inside FIFA say Brazil, the most
expensive World Cup ever at an estimated cost of $11.3 billion, has
shown both the limits and the risks of this model.
Although the nature of the bidding process means countries able to
splurge on state-of-the-art stadiums will still attract support,
there is a growing sense among the populations of cities and nations
considering being hosts for major sporting events that bigger is not
"I think we are at a turning point in the history of mega-events and
I think the turning point will lead to a very much reduced ambition
towards infrastructure connected with these events," said Wolfgang
Maennig, a professor at Hamburg University who specializes in sports
For Maennig, who won Olympic gold at Seoul 1988 as a German rower,
big sporting events have become so political and controversial they
risk losing both corporate sponsors and countries willing to host
He points to the IOC's difficulty in finding a country to hold the
2022 Winter Olympics. Germany's Munich and Switzerland's St.
Moritz-Davos both withdrew planned bids when people in the two
places voted 'no' in referendums, leaving the IOC scrambling for a
In Brazil, which will also host the 2016 Olympics, protests and
strikes have dominated the public mood since millions took to the
streets during a World Cup warm-up last June to bemoan poor public
"The positive to be taken out of Brazil is that we have learnt from
it and will do things differently next time," one FIFA source said.
The source added that FIFA should have insisted that Brazil cut the
number of host cities from 12, which would have reduced the number
of potential problems with unfinished infrastructure, and made good
on the threat to move games if venues weren’t quite ready for prime
Soccer’s European body UEFA has already got the message - reducing
the burden on any one country for its European Championship, with
the 2020 tournament to be played in 13 cities across Europe.
For sponsors the equation may be changing too, as negative headlines
have swelled from the usual trickle to a flood.
Sponsors took the rare decision to speak out on the corruption probe
into Qatar's bid, with Adidas saying the negative debate around FIFA
"is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners."
Coca-Cola was similarly outspoken.
"The minute soccer moves from the sports pages to the political
pages I think sponsors have to get concerned because their message
is getting crowded," said David Carter, director of the Sports
Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
"People are flat-out nervous," he said. "The last thing you can
afford when you're investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a
global sports opportunity is to have to cross your fingers and hope
for it to turn out alright."
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Carter said the price FIFA commands from sponsors was at risk of
going down if they saw less benefit from being directly connected
with FIFA and the World Cup. Still, that is unlikely to happen
anytime soon given that sponsorship deals are usually organized over
many tournaments - Adidas for example has signed up as a FIFA
sponsor until 2030.
And the mega-events remain very healthy on
some levels. For example, the prices for television rights have
continued to rise with little sign of abating.
Sixty percent of Brazilians now think hosting the Cup is bad for
Brazil, according to a recent poll, and thousands have marched
nationwide carrying banners telling FIFA to "go home."
Brazil may have exploded with street parties as its team won the
opening game on Thursday but scattered violent protests were a
reminder that many locals remain angry over the cost of the
One source working at a leading World Cup sponsor said the firm had
been forced to change its marketing strategy in response to public
negativity surrounding this year's event.
However, Andrew Sneyd, an executive at World Cup sponsor Budweiser
responsible for marketing, was more upbeat on Brazil, saying it was
Budweiser's largest campaign to date and no adjustments had been
made in response to local opposition.
CHANGE NOT EASY
Changing the way these events are structured is not easy.
In countries other than the most advanced soccer economies like
Britain or Germany, stadiums have to be built and infrastructure
improved to put on events like the World Cup.
The challenge is how to make them less ambitious and less
controversial without excluding developing nations who almost always
need to invest heavily to get venues up to standard.
A different FIFA source said there was a growing awareness of the
social and economic responsibility that came with putting on the
World Cup but that the bidding process remained one of faith - you
have to trust the country chosen will deliver on its promises.
Still, the tide seems to be turning because of growing popular
resistance to huge spending on sporting events.
For Maennig the answer lies in bids that are more collaborative with
the local population.
"I am pushing my home city Berlin to have a completely different
Olympic bid (for 2024) by asking residents to participate in an
Olympic concept they would be in favor of,” he said.
(Editing by Todd Benson, Kieran Murray and Martin Howell)
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