Sustainable hosting: tomorrow must change

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One would have been hard-pressed to miss the chatter around the World Cup this summer. The greatest soccer competition on the globe was a rousing success — from its broad base of viewership to its unpredictable twists and turns, the 2018 FIFA World Cup was certainly one for the ages.

The success of the event, however, masked a much larger and ever-present specter that hangs over the World Cup and other international sporting events such as the Olympics — that of exorbitant costs and unfortunate side effects that the hosts of these popular events must bear.

Countries, especially those that are poorer or less developed, struggle to come up with the funds necessary to build the new stadiums and transportation networks that organizational bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, require. These funds could be better served improving infrastructure and the standard of living for lower-income populations, which are instead marginalized and removed to improve the image of the hosts.

Brazil recently hosted both the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and the country was particularly affected by these impositions. Stadiums now sit empty and unused, exposing a major problem with these requirements — much of the infrastructure built for the events is temporary. Not only did Brazil overspend on the tournament, but it also overspent in ways that negatively affected Brazilians themselves.

Proponents of the current method of hosting will cite the increase in tourism and publicity as positive effects generated by these tournaments, but even that revenue pales in comparison to the money spent by the host countries and cities.

There needs to be a change. This is clear from the lack of support and enthusiasm in the bidding processes. The IOC is floundering as cities refuse to host the Olympic Games and FIFA is facing a humanitarian crisis in Qatar because the country’s hosting process for the 2022 World Cup has been rife with maltreatment of workers.

One solution is to disperse events. The next UEFA European Championship in soccer will be spread across the continent, with cities in various countries hosting only a few matches each.

This diffuses the need for major infrastructure improvements and makes each game an individual event on a local scale while maintaining the romanticism of an international tournament. Travel distance and time could be an impediment to this solution, but that is easily solved by having groups of teams play each other in one city or region. Each pool of teams could play all their games in one host city, with the winners traveling to a new venue for the next stage in the competition.

Playing games and events across regions could be applicable to both the World Cup and the Olympics. The 2026 World Cup, to be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada, employs this strategy, and it will be interesting to see the result of a tournament diffused across a continent.

Another method of lessening negative impacts would be the exact opposite of diffusion — absolute centralization, with one host city or country hosting a competition every time it occurs.

This would eliminate the need to constantly build new, temporary infrastructure, and whichever city or nation hosted the competition would have a permanent system in place. In addition, it would act as a recurring tourist attraction, increasing the benefits of tourism as local businesses could rely on continual and specific high seasons.

Before discounting this recurrent hosting as taking away from the international nature of these tournaments, consider the possible outcomes of such a plan. In step with their Greek origins, the Summer Olympics could be hosted in Athens or another Greek city. International metropolises such as New York, London or Tokyo could also be potential Olympic cities.

Neither of these solutions are perfect, and the changes would obviously affect the current international nature of the World Cup and the Olympics, but decimating the economies and standards of living of countries to put on these events is an unacceptable situation. Both FIFA and the IOC must reconsider their roles and processes in selecting and organizing these competitions and enact changes for the good of those who are actually hosting these events.

Jasper Sundeen writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].