Be care­ful what you wish for, World Cup hosts

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Sven Daniel Wolfe

Mega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are global cel­e­bra­tions, and it is easy to get caught up in the ex­cite­ment of the party. But be­hind the glory of sport lie se­vere risks that too of­ten are ig­nored.

Even for wealth­ier na­tions such as those in North Amer­ica, host­ing means ful­fill­ing a va­ri­ety of in­fra­struc­ture and se­cu­rity re­quire­ments, which in­clude build­ing or up­grad­ing air­ports, roads and ho­tels. De­spite or­ga­niz­ers’ prom­ises and best in­ten­tions, these projects al­ways cost more than planned.

While it might sound ap­peal­ing to imag­ine an in­flux of in­vest­ment into the host cities, the prob­lem is that these in­vest­ments tar­get the short­term needs of the event and not nec­es­sar­ily the long-term needs of the peo­ple who live in the cities. It is not of­ten the case that these needs over­lap.

Re­search shows that every re­cent host city of the Olympics and the World Cup has en­dured dam­ag­ing ur­ban im- pacts. Mar­ket-ori­ented democ­ra­cies have fared bet­ter in be­ing able to limit neg­a­tive out­comes, but no host city emerged un­scathed.

Host­ing mega-events also tends to ex­ac­er­bate so­cial inequal­i­ties, push­ing marginal­ized peo­ple even fur­ther into the shad­ows as lo­cal public space is san­i­tized for the global au­di­ence. On top of this, the 2026 World Cup will be the first in his­tory co-hosted by three na­tions and fea­tur­ing 48 teams.

De­spite the rhetoric of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion that comes along­side this ex­pan­sion, is sport re­ally the best fo­rum for ei­ther ur­ban de­vel­op­ment or diplo­macy? Will trade wars cease and bor­der walls fall just be­cause the na­tions share host­ing? Given these dan­gers, does it make sense to risk busted bud­gets, bro­ken cities and marginal­ized cit­i­zens all just for a party?

Sven Daniel Wolfe is a re­searcher with the In­sti­tute of Geography and Sus­tain­abil­ity at the Univer­sity of Lau­sanne, Switzer­land.

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