The World Cup is here, and in eight years, the World Cup will be… here, after Wednesday’s announcement that FIFA accepted a joint bid from the United States, Mexico, and Canada to stage the 2026 event.
Leaving aside a truckload of easy jokes about the U.S. following Russia (this year) and Qatar (2022) in the hosting lineup, this surely will be a big deal for somebody. Maybe for people on the Manhattan side of the Lincoln Tunnel who want to walk through the streets selling bottles of water to drivers who are stuck in traffic on the day of the final?
The dirty not-really-a-secret of the World Cup is that it’s a tremendous boondoggle. Four years ago, Brazil got words of caution from the previous host, South Africa, but by then, of course, it was too late to avoid a future of stories like “Brazil’s World Cup Legacy Includes $550M Stadium-Turned-Parking Lot.” Qatar’s preparations for the next World Cup have basically been a humanitarian crisis. And the current event in the once and maybe future G-8 nation of Russia? No different.
Construction of facilities in North America won’t be so expansive – and therefore dangerous – but there also are questionable decisions like finally making the roof retractable at Stade Olympique in Montreal, at a cost of at least $200 million, 50 years after the stadium hosted the Olympics and two decades after the Expos left town because the building was such a dump. As Montreal city councillor Rosannie Filato noted, that waste of a quarter of a billion or so bucks already was going to happen anyway, though those were not quite her sentiments.
If infrastructure projects, no matter how poorly thought out, are happening regardless of the World Cup, then what’s the big deal?
In another place, the World Cup can be an event that an entire hosting country gets wrapped up in. That’s not to say it won’t be a big deal here – it was in 1994, and soccer is much more popular now than it was then in the United States, in part because of that event’s success. It’s just a reflection of what makes an event like the World Cup what it is here.
Consider the scenario for Wednesday, when Uruguay faces Saudi Arabia in a group play game at 11 a.m. Eastern, live from Rostov-on-Don, or maybe the 2 p.m. game between Iran and Spain, in Kazan. Think about the fun of ducking out of work for a long lunch with an oat soda or two, and how good of an event this is for bars and restaurants across America.
Now think about Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia in a 7 p.m. game in Cincinnati, followed by Iran-Spain coming your way from Edmonton at 10 Eastern. The games will still be on television, of course, but you are more likely to be at home, flipping channels to see if the Mets’ bullpen can hold on to a lead (they won’t) or what’s happening on House Hunters (someone is considering not buying a house because they don’t like the way it’s painted).
In the cities hosting games, it will be exciting for fans to get a chance to go see World Cup games in person, and there will be some tourism benefits, but “hosting the World Cup” sounds a lot sexier than “hosting four or five soccer games between teams from randomly selected countries, requiring an astounding amount of expenditure on security and preparation for a stadium that may not even be full.
The World Cup is an outstanding television event. So is the Super Bowl. New York hosted that once, too, and it was just another thing that happened. That’s a far cry better than Qatar’s situation, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good for anyone.