Words by Esteban Ramirez
Since its conception in 1930, the FIFA World Cup has been held every 4 years, a 90-year-old tradition that FIFA might soon break.
At the most recent annual FIFA congress on June 13th, it was pitched by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation that this tradition is broken, to be replaced by the World Cup being held every bi-annually.
The proposal was supported by 166 nations, with only 22 opposing. This result clearly demonstrates a majority view amongst the member associates of FIFA, which begs the question of why they would want to change the structure of the biggest competition in international football.
Out of 211 possible nations, only 17 have ever hosted the World Cup. Many of them are not only current football behemoths, such as France, Italy and Germany, but developed first-world countries. Contrastingly, the competition has only been held in Africa once and in Asia a handful of times.
With more frequent World Cups, the hope is that more nations will be given the chance to host the prestigious tournament. The global attention of these could be great for those with lesser power and influence in the football-world. Furthermore, although hosting the World Cup is a very expensive endeavour, rarely paying for itself let alone making a profit, the reach and attraction of the event is unquestionable.
According to FIFA, a combined 3.572 billion people watched the 2018 World Cup (roughly half the world’s population). Therefore, the argument could be made that the resulting global status and infrastructure left behind from a World Cup can benefit poorer nations by giving them an outlet to generate wealth and boost their global image.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has backed this view, saying, “we want the rest of the world, and the rest of Europe which is not part of the elite, to grow as well, and at a much higher pace”.
However, it is difficult to see how a poor country, that has barely enough to support crucial infrastructure like education and healthcare, can have money set aside to build extravagant stadiums and transport necessary to get to them.
Although this raises questions over why so many African and Asian nations supported to proposition, it does lead to an interesting point about why Saudi Arabia in particular was the nation to make the proposition.
As mentioned, the idea was pitched by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, a nation belonging to the Gulf states that have seen huge increases in footballing influence with ownership of two of the richest clubs in football: Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. This regional increase in footballing interest may be a clue towards the reasoning, although there may be more to this than meets the eye.
It is easy to see why a wealthy, rapidly developing region would want to attract the eyes of the rest of the world. Perhaps this newly-garnered attention on middle-eastern football, along with lasting infrastructural development from the event, could lead to economic benefits such as relieving the Gulf states’ dependency on oil.
This would follow recent trends in Gulf states using football as a way of generating income to support their regimes. A bi-annual World Cup would thus be a huge milestone in the narrative of uber-rich owners and vast amounts of money influencing the highest levels of football.