The World Cup: Do Countries Get What They Put In?

The President of the United States recently came out in support of a bid by the U.S. along with North American neighbors Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup. Normally, such a show of support from the world’s most powerful man would unilaterally be considered a boon to the cause.

However, the manner through which President Trump decided to express his point of view—a tweet—and his rationale for doing so has created concerns that he could jeopardize the bid. The text of the tweet, which first suggests that “the U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” goes on to say that “it would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid,” and questions “why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

A competing school of thought has suggested that Trump’s intended tactic may have been effective, and that political pressure could mean increased support for the American bid as opposed to that of competing Morocco. FIFA declined to comment specifically on Trump’s tweeted comments, but it pointed to its rules discouraging political considerations when the voting body selects a host country.

Which of the bidding countries, if any, will be selected to ultimately host the 2026 World Cup will be officially decided during the 68th FIFA Congress, which begins meeting on June 13th, 2018. If the United States does end up being part of the winning bid, it could have a rather significant economic impact on the country.

The economic advantages and disadvantages of the Olympics, through a variety of sizes and demographics of host countries, is more widely understood. The Olympics are known for being wildly expensive, and are likely fiscally irresponsible for the vast majority of the world’s countries due to the astronomical costs associated with hosting. One common justification for paying the high costs of hosting the Games is the purported boost they provide a country in national pride and global recognition. However, as highlighted in one Wharton School publication, the international spotlight the Games bring is a double-edged sword. For example, as the article explains, the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 highlighted the country’s less-than-sterling human rights history.

The FIFA World Cup, although a massive-scale event, does not bring nearly the same international notoriety of the Games, but carries similarly heavy costs. South Africa, who hosted the World Cup in 2010, spent approximately $5 billion on World Cup-related matters, and returns measured just a mere fraction of that investment. Is that cost sustainable for either the U.S. (even when shared with Canada and Mexico) or Morocco? The United States has a ballooning national debt which threatens to rear its ugly head in the coming years, and Morocco has a GDP of only $101 billion.

Further, the U.S. is dropping in global perception due to political turmoil in our country as of late. Morocco, for its own part, has an imperfect human rights record and even today assigns criminal punishment for homosexuality and lacks a consistent due process in practice for its citizens.

The President’s comments have reignited debate over where the 2026 Cup should be held about six weeks before the date the location will ultimately be decided. It’s unclear, however, if these comments will help or hurt the U.S. in its quest to host the cup with our North American allies. Either way, the World Cup may not be a good choice for either of the top contenders.