Empty seats are seen in the stands during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Why Host the World Cup?

FIFA, the global governing body for soccer, continues to convince governments that hosting the quadrennial World Cup amounts to a win-win in terms of global recognition and economic benefits. But as the evidence piles up to suggest otherwise, some political leaders have begun to spot the con.

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Whom would you trust more, Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel? Whereas Putin is reveling in the attention that Russia is receiving as host of the 2018 World Cup, Emanuel has informed the US Soccer Federation and FIFA that Chicago has no interest in serving as a host city when the event comes to North America in 2026. Canada and Mexico will each host ten matches, and the United States will host another 60. So why is the third-largest US city taking a pass?

To understand what it means to host a global sporting event, consider the fact that Putin’s government spent $51-70 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and is projected to spend at least $14 billion hosting the current World Cup, which runs through July 15. Russia’s budget provided for the construction of seven new stadiums – including one in St. Petersburg that cost around $1.7 billion – and renovations to five other venues. And that does not even account for the additional expenses for training facilities, lodging, expanded infrastructure, and security.

Chicago, having already hosted the opening ceremony and first match of the 1994 World Cup, has adopted quite a different mindset. Emanuel’s spokesperson, Matt McGrath, recently issued a statement explaining that, “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk.” FIFA, McGrath alleges, was demanding something tantamount to a “blank check,” including an “open-ended ability to modify the agreement … at any time and at their discretion.”

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