Global Expansion as Guiding Principle for the World Cup
Russia 2018 and Qatar 2020.
England's overwhelmingly rejected World Cup bid met with a justifiable anger. The bid was exceptional, meeting every measurable criteria for selection. But if a host nation was always chosen on measurable terms, the selection process would have a damaging effect on future World Cups.
The charts highlight patterns of World Cup host nations by continent through 2022, which correspond to FIFA’s designated confederations. The international political environment, and FIFA’s personalities, relationships, and structures influence the host selection process, but are too complicated to be shown with little colored squares. Only the general trend of global expansion can be represented, which began intermittently and now has become a guiding principle and mission.
FIFA’s selection process and the secret and/or corrupt machinations are guided by this principle. There is nothing inherently corrupt in the principle of expansion until there is corruption in its application. Expansion only provides new avenues and perhaps more possibilities for the process to go astray.
The expansion of host nations has accelerated as the orange squares show. Eventually continental expansion will end with the Oceana Football Confederation (OFC) and give way to regional or interior expansion. The continent as the primary geographical category will give way. In the case of Russia 2018, Europe is now partitioned into a distinct eastern region. In the case of Qatar 2022, the Middle east emerges as a region distinct from Asia. The future geographical dynamics are already in place.
Mexico 1970 can be considered the first expansion of the World Cup host nation. Mexico 1986, the next time the World Cup was helped outside Europe or South America, can’t be considered an expansion. In these terms, U.S. 1994 is not a continental, but regional expansion, arguably the first when also taking into consideration that this was a cultural expansion.
The U.S. introduces new criteria for a host nation. FIFA chose a nation that was not considered to have a football culture, specifically a culturally embedded professional game. At the time there was no Major League Soccer. The U.S. made a case that it could produce an entertaining, high quality, and profitable World Cup that would more than compensate for the deficiency. Further, its lack of a true football culture could be seen as an asset. The U.S. was a wealthy market with high growth potential.
Continental or regional expansion drove three of the four World Cups held or to be held between 2010 and 2022: South Africa 2010, Russia 2018, and Qatar 2022. The fourth, Brazil 2014, is nearly expansionist if the 36-year gap between South American hosts is considered a rediscovery.
FIFA defines a clear set of measurable criteria by which bid nations are evaluated—stadium capacity, operations, construction, security and risk assessment, transportation and accommodations.
There is also a set of unfixed variables—somewhat unclear—dependent on specific contexts. One already mentioned is the nation without a football tradition. This includes Qatar. When is a nation without a football tradition considered an asset and when is a nation with a long football tradition such as England, not considered advantageous? When is a nation’s pre-existing infrastructure, or lack of, more or less weighted against other criteria? Geographical considerations are flexible from one bidding process to the next. Russia is part of Europe, but may have been chosen because Eastern Europe has never hosted a World Cup. When it came to determining the criteria for 2022, was Europe at a disadvantage since it could be determined that it had just hosted the previous World Cup?
The shifting criteria, and the presence, absence, or varying weight of variables under consideration from one bidding process to the next could create a better cover for corruption. Yet the expansion of the host nation can’t be reduced to it. As a result, the process needs more transparency and reorganization. This is exactly what is being called for.
The shifting criteria recombines variables and assigns them different weights for each World Cup. Reaching new territory for the 2002 World Cup in Japan/S. Korea was likely a more important factor than it was for Germany 2006. FIFA guides the World Cup, and regardless of the corruption, is keeping the world in the World Cup. The process can be easily manipulated with such malleable features. Yet the expansion of the host nation can’t be reduced to it. It's still a good idea. The problem lies with the combination of a variable process and the corruption that emerges from its opacity. Purge the institution and make it more transparent is a better way to preserve the best parts than by defection or splintering off from FIFA. Bidding nations can then contribute to the value of criteria by making a case for them.
Fixed criteria from one World Cup to the next, moves closer to becoming measurable criteria only, primarily technical and economic measurements that would limit host nation expansion. The World Cup would rotate among the wealthiest handful of nations, a G8 World Cup. The only competition would come from autocratic governments. The future holds less crowds of joyous visitors, but more angry protesters, unless the host nation had made assembly illegal.
A few general statements about the charts:
—Chart 3: The first eight World Cups were held in Western Europe (5) or South America (3), accounting for almost half of the 19 World Cups to date.
—Chart 1: Between 1958 and 2006, Western Europe hosted every other World Cup.
—Chart 2: Brazil 2014 marks the first World Cup in South America since Argentina 1978, a 36-year gap.
—Chart 4: The first World Cup held outside of Europe (this includes Sweden, sorry) or South America was Mexico 1970. The World Cup had now expanded to three continents. The second World Cup held outside Europe and South America was Mexico 1986, and the third was the United States 1994. The tournament expanded to a fourth continent with Japan/South Korea 2002. The fifth was South Africa 2010, leaving the (OFC) as the only continent yet to host.