The 2018 FIFA World Cup has kicked-off in Russia.
The event, which is the world’s most watched sporting spectacle, will no doubt be dominating headlines for the coming month.
For England, the focus will centre on whether or not its team can finally shake off the hoodoo that has scuppered its recent attempts to reclaim the title it last held in 1966.
With one of the youngest teams in the tournament, coach Gareth Southgate, has opted for youth over experience arguably in an effort to exorcise the demons of 2014’s ignominious fall at the hands of Iceland. All eyes will be on the likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold and whether or not they can triumph where other, older heads have failed.
For Russia, however, the stakes are higher than just football glory. According to the organisers of the event, around $11bn was spent on the preparations between 2013 and 2018 – although reportedly this figure doesn’t include the money spent on infrastructure and stadia that were set to have been built regardless.
But whether it was money well spent remains up for debate. And, it is a debate that has been ongoing for years as hosting duties for the tournament have been increasingly opened up to emerging markets where football is big, but required infrastructure investment is bigger.
Organisers say that the prestige of hosting a global sporting tournament helps build a country’s international profile, increases the tourist trade and in turn its overall economy. It is also seen as a way to build a sense of unity within a country – the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, for example, is held up as an example of a tournament that helped to unite a very divided country, the year after apartheid finally ended.
However, some argue that cost of building the required infrastructure is often too high. The World Economic Forum recently noted that while it is true that an increase in government spending should lead to a rise in GDP, a focus on inclusive growth proves a better long-term stimulus. As it points out: “Unfortunately, sporting infrastructure is expensive to construct and run, takes up scarce and high-value real estate, and is often difficult to use with enough frequency to cover maintenance costs. A stadium is not really essential to the economic well-being of a median worker. So if tournaments are a convenient excuse to construct and improve tangential national infrastructure, why not derive equivalent benefits at a lower cost by eliminating stadia from the equation?”1
A case in point, it goes on to argue, is that the most expensive stadium built for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is currently being used as a parking lot for buses.2
As for this month’s event, the organisers predict it will lift the Russian economy by as much as $31bn over the next 10 years, largely as a result of increased tourism spend. But ratings agency Moody’s is less excited about its impact.
In a note published in late May, it said that much of the economic impact has already been felt through infrastructure spending, and even there the affect has been limited.
In a press release, Kristin Lindow, a Senior Vice President and analyst at Moody's said: “The games will last just one month and the associated economic stimulus will pale in comparison to the size of Russia's $1.3tn economy.
"We do not expect the World Cup to make a meaningful contribution to broader economic growth."
While both the football and economic winners are yet to be crowned, the overall winners are likely to be television studios, which are set to do brisk business. The 2014 version of the event attracted a global in-home television audience of around 3.2bn people, with over one billion watching the final. Expectations are sky-high, that this year’s event will do just as well. All of which could potentially bode well for media and advertising revenues.