Sporting Legacy part one: The FIFA World Cup

Sport has the power to bring people together, educate, and promote positive change in countries. However, are the biggest sporting events doing enough to leave behind a positive legacy in host countries? During our ‘Sporting Legacy’ series we will be examining a range of the biggest sports events around the globe, starting with the FIFA World Cup, and discussing whether the legacy has a positive influence or if more is still to be desired. Quite often new infrastructures are being built to meet event demands, so the legacy should incorporate the use of new facilities for local communities, the economical tourism boom from luring people from all over the world to watch the sport, and the levels of participation in sport following the end of the tournament (participation is a key theme for Vivi Nation). So the question we will be discussing is: Do major sporting events leave enough permanent benefits and improve participation?

Director of FIFA TV Niclas Ericson said:  ”We believe the overall audience figures from the 2014 FIFA World Cup will show again that the World Cup is the most popular single-sporting event on the planet”.

The latest FIFA World Cup, hosted by Brazil, reached a record number of viewers around the world. All eight World Cup groups set viewing highs for at least one territory globally, underlining the vast breadth of the event’s popularity across the world. Blockbuster viewing figures, such as the 3.2 billion people who the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa reached, emphasise that football is at the pinnacle of all sports events. The global reach of football is shown by the fact that 209 recognised football nations are listed as members of FIFA.

FIFA global

At the time of the latest World Cup in 2014, Brazil was struggling through poverty and political problems, but the nation still united to support their national team due to their passion for ‘the beautiful game’. Rioting before the tournament (and occasionally during the early stages) threatened to spoil the occasion, but the event is widely viewed as a sporting success. Despite the latest corruption allegations that have plagued FIFA for a long time, football continues to be a beacon of hope for nations globally, and once the tournament began in Brazil it had an uplifting event on the whole nation. Millions of fans from all over the world came to visit Brazil and they did not fail to deliver.

So with the actual sport being at the peak of its field, now we will move on to the legacy. As part of growing football on a global level, FIFA, the governing body of football, is giving a wide variety of countries a chance to showcase their worth in the global market – emphasised when they announced that Qatar would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup (a controversial decision nonetheless). Naturally, staging a tournament of this global scale should help to improve tourism, reputation, culture and participation in sport in the country. With reports highlighting the significant cost of building new stadiums capable of hosting the tournament, it does beg the question why countries such as Qatar are considered. Is it worth it? Will there be a lasting legacy from the tournament? What will happen to the new facilities when the tournament is over? I find it hard to believe that following the end of the 2022 World Cup, the new stadiums will be consistently filled and used, so why waste millions and millions on building facilities that will only be used for one month? In the next section, I will examine the two most recent World Cup’s to see if the legacy left behind made hosting the tournament worthwhile.

The FIFA World Cup 2010 South Africa

“Even if FIFA gave us all the money it made, that’s not going to address all the poverty and inequality.” Danny Jordaan, South Africa’s World Cup organiser.

They lied to us and betrayed us, they first promised to supply water, upgrade houses and roads. But they just built the stadium and disappeared.” Imaan Milanzi, a community liaison officer.

“It was a success for FIFA and the corporate sponsors made a lot of money, but it left local businesses and the state floundering.” Johannesburg-based researcher Dale McKinley, pointing out that of the eight stadiums built or refurbished for the World Cup, only one – the iconic FNB stadium outside Soweto – “is financially viable”.

So let’s start with analysing the World Cup hosted by South Africa. Firstly, as a fan of football, the event itself was a joy to behold. The famous vuvuzela became iconic and extremely memorable, the football was of a high standard, and the atmosphere across the country was electric… It was widely viewed as a successful, crime-free, reputation-building rebrand of the country that attracted more tourism and significant foreign investment, yet South African authorities spent a substantial $2bn (£1,2bn) on infrastructure and other upgrades in order to host the tournament. This cost of hosting the global event is nearly ten times what South Africa spends on tackling HIV – a stark and, quite frankly, truly appalling comparison.

So whilst scenes of jubilation go a long way in rebranding a country with a poor reputation, the reality is South Africa spent in total an excess of $3 billion renovating the country to get ready for the finals. Some of this investment was incredibly valuable for the country, such as transport links, airports and tourism, yet the money spent on stadiums was far from:

The Soccer City Stadium, renovated in 2009, has a capacity of 84,490 (seated) and stands the largest stadium in Africa. It cost approximately $440 million in total but is used largely for concerts and local 5-a-side tournaments. Typically it is an empty shell, left discarded, unused, and as an example of what a mistake it was to spend the money on it. Additionally, Green Point Urban Park, a 64,100-capacity stadium in Cape Town, costs £2 million a year in public money to run and has no definitive owner. In fact, rather than celebrating the completion of these magnificent stadiums, locals would much rather they get torn down to be used for what the people really need – housing. So did South Africa genuinely need 10 stadiums that all seat 40,000-plus?

Whilst the World Cup clearly did great work in improving the country’s, and the continents, reputation, the lasting legacy has failed to leave a permanent solution for serious problems that it was supposedly meant to help tackle. Additionally, the tournament failed to really inspire a nation to get involved in football – demonstrated by the lack of use of facilities.

The FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil

Since the tournament came to an end last summer, it can be one that is viewed as a sporting success. Once more, football united people and went some way in calming the volatile political situation the country was in. Mass protests over inequality and the building delays to stadia and other public infrastructure before the event meant that there was a lot of pressure on the tournament to deliver.

Once more, despite being a successful sporting event, the sense behind the decision of Brazil hosting is constantly and continuously scrutinised.

Manaus, for example, a small city in Brazil, had a costly new stadium built – one that is now barely filled or used. So whilst football was already ingrained in Brazil’s culture, the end of the tournament is still draining resources and could have been a lot better.

In December 2013, FIFA’s Legacy Trust Scheme announced via the organisation’s official website that they would commit $20 million to the task of leaving a ‘”lasting legacy” in the country of Brazil, who is set to host the big kick-off in less than four months’ time’.

The objective was obvious: even more football in a football-mad country, more people involved than ever before and the promotion of fitness, nutrition and well-being. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t quite match the aims.

So what should a legacybe?

“World Cups should seek to boost GDP, lessen poverty, boost natural resources and business and improve health care wherever it goes. There are very few tournaments on record where this has been the case, and the profit FIFA makes from the tournament is not donated to the hosts to repair themselves.” Bleacher Report on the World Cup Legacy.

The legacy of the World Cup is vital for the success of FIFA. The biggest sporting tournament in the world should be a symbol of hope (which it has been) and make huge strides in using sport to transform lives and engage children – it shouldn’t financially burden a host country and take away the focus of serious issues (such as HIV). Funding should target long-term beneficial factors – better infrastructure to airports, railways/roads and IT, improving global trade, using football to promote change in local communities and increasing tourism.

FIFA officials need to think beyond sponsors cashing in. What does their event leave in its wake? How will football help the host country in the long term? Choosing host nations that are ill-prepared is not the right move from FIFA. Working in local communities and with governments to ensure a nation is ready to host a major sporting tournament before actually giving them the tournament should be the way forward. When the tournament goes to Dubai, do FIFA really think that the brand new stadiums will be used after the event? What they should be doing is building facilities, improving grassroots sport and growing football via other channels prior, so that when the decision goes to Dubai for host nation it is going to a country that is ready to reap the rewards of putting on such a prestigious event. FIFA need to responsibly choose host nations, not place countries under the incredible burden if they are not ready. For countries that are ready to host such a major event, I am sure increased participation will be the result.

My conclusion is that FIFA is not doing enough to leave a lasting legacy, however, they clearly have the ability to do so. Women playing football, in particular, has seen a steady rise globally – something FIFA is aiming for, but there is still much more work to do. So will FIFA leave lasting benefits in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, that remains to be seen.

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.

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